Non-surgical face masks — including cloth face coverings — are currently authorized only for use as source control, not personal protective equipment. That’s according to an updated and reissued emergency use authorization by the Food and Drug Administration. 

The clarification responds to “questions and concerns” fielded after the agency’s original version was released on April 18, using language that stated otherwise. Source control, the agency specifies, means preventing infection transmission through respiratory secretions produced when speaking, coughing or sneezing. 

While face masks can be helpful by covering the wearer’s mouth and nose, they are not a substitute for filtering facepiece respirators or surgical face masks in healthcare situations, the agency added. People who do use a cloth face covering in other contexts are advised to continue to practice social distancing, staying at least six feet away from others.

Evidence has shown that the coronavirus may be spread through respiratory secretions whether individuals are symptomatic or not