PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) ─ Up until now, the guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has said the only people who should wear face masks during the coronavirus outbreak are people who are sick or who are caring for someone who is sick.

But that changed Friday in Rhode Island at the state’s daily coronavirus briefing. The state’s medical director, Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott, said Rhode Islanders are now encouraged to wear cloth face coverings when going outdoors for essential, not discretionary, trips. And the cloth masks must be washed daily.

The reason? Not to protect yourself, but to protect everyone else from the thing you have no control over, and may not even know you have: the coronavirus.

A covering may be a light cloth bandana or scarf wrapped around the lower face ─ covering the nose and mouth ─ or a piece of cloth attached to the head with ties or straps, either sewn or improvised from household items.

“Face coverings are different from regular medical masks, whether they’re N95 or other types of surgical face masks,” Alexander-Scott said.

“At this time, people in the general public should not be purchasing, or hoarding, medical-grade masks,” she added.

The simple cloth covering will reduce particles being released into the air by the person wearing the mask when speaking, coughing or sneezing ─ ideal for someone who might be carrying the coronavirus but experiencing no symptoms.

‘Masking up’ must be added to all the other health and safety measures we’ve adopted to fight the virus, Dr. Alexander-Scott stressed: we must still practice social distancing ─ staying six feet apart from each other ─ along with frequent, rigorous hand-washing with soap.

Anyone who is sick or has symptoms is still ordered to stay home.

Cloth masks should also be used for just one day and then laundered, in hot water, as you would regular clothing, and dried on a hot cycle in a dryer, the medical director said.

The guidance to begin employing cloth masks follows in the footsteps of public officials in New York City, Los Angeles, and other communities hit hard by the outbreak, in efforts to stem the virus spread.