COVID-19 coronavirus face mask. (Photo illustration. Kai Hendry/Flickr)

Bay Area health officials on Thursday recommended that residents use a cloth to cover their nose and mouth when leaving their homes to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus.

The new recommendation comes from the California Department of Public Health, and should be combined with regular hand-washing and social distancing, health officials said.

The face coverings don’t have to be hospital grade. Residents can use bandanas, fabric masks and neck gaiters, which can all be washed and reused. Residents can also make face coverings using T-shirts, sweatshirts or towels, health officials said.

Despite previous advice that face coverings for the public weren’t needed to stop COVID-19’s spread, San Francisco Health Officer Dr. Tomas Aragon said the circumstances have changed.

“Now that the virus is spreading in the community, it is more likely that people with no or mild symptoms may have coronavirus and not know it,” he said. “Wearing face coverings helps to protect others, and is a great way to be a good neighbor and community member. They are an additional tool, along with physical distancing and hand washing, to reduce transmission of coronavirus,” he said.

Personal protective equipment, also known as PPE, like N-95 masks and surgical masks, aren’t needed and should be reserved for medical personnel, considering short supplies of PPE in hospitals nationwide.

Although large companies and the state have donated hundreds of thousands of masks and gloves for health care workers, some San Francisco city health care workers, along with workers at the University of California at San Francisco, have spoken out about the desperate need for more PPE for frontline workers.