Minnesotans should add a step before venturing into our COVID-19 world: wearing a face covering.

Though messages from health officials have been mixed up to this point, it’s best to treat yourself and everyone else as a possible coronavirus carrier and cover your mouth and nose.

That advice is based on evolving knowledge about how the sometimes deadly virus spreads. During the early days of the pandemic, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) did not recommend masks for the general public. It was only necessary, the agency previously said, for those who tested positive, health care workers and other first responders.

But last month, the CDC reversed course and recommended that Americans use “simple cloth face coverings.” The highly contagious coronavirus can spread from coughing, sneezing or even just talking when people are close by during those limited trips we’re making to the grocery store, restaurants, pharmacies and the gas station.

Face coverings should be an additional precaution. Masks don’t replace the value of staying at home, social distancing, handwashing and isolating when ill or symptomatic, according to state health officials.

And the general public shouldn’t be using medical-grade masks such as the N95 made by 3M; those are in short supply and are desperately needed by health care workers and others on the front lines. Cloth face coverings made from scarfs, bandannas or other common materials may be used.

Easy directions for making face coverings can be found on the CDC website and others.

Though wearing a mask of some sort is voluntary in Minnesota, for now it’s the right thing to do. In the interest of protecting yourself and others, cover up in public to prevent illness and save lives.