MONTREAL -- For the first time in two months of near-daily COVID-19 press briefings, Quebec Premier Francois Legault and his health officials met reporters wearing face masks.

It was not a random occurrence; on Tuesday Legault - wearing what he said was a handmade mask that was given to him - said he "strongly recommends" that Quebecers wear face masks when they are out in public.

Legault said frequent hand washing and maintaining a physical distance of two metres remain the most effective ways to avoid contracting COVID-19, but said face masks can provide an added benefit of limiting the spread of the virus.

"A good way to greatly reduce the contagion is to wear a mask," Legault said. "We strongly recommend that you do so."

Legault said the province's recommendation comes at a time when schools and stores outside of Montreal are reopening - and, as of May 25, in Montreal, too - and more people are out in public as the province gradually eases its confinement orders.

While urging mask-wearing in public, Legault stopped short of making it mandatory. He said part of that is because of availability -- many types of medical masks have been in short supply and the province doesn't want to discriminate against those who are unable to obtain one for themselves.

Montreal's transit authority, the STM, announced last week it would distribute 600,000 masks in the coming weeks to transit users, but declined to make it obligatory because it doesn't have a way of policing whether someone is wearing one.

Legault, who has been in Quebec City since the beginning of the pandemic, said he has heard of numerous situations where physical distancing isn't possible.

"I still have a lot of friends in Montreal who tell me that indeed, on the metro, the bus, in crowded stores, people are within two metres with no masks," Legault said. "This is what convinced me this morning to put on a mask to come and see you, to send a strong message."

Horacio Arruda, Quebec's national director of public health, said that while wearing masks in public is, for now, but a strong recommendation, he said it is not out of the question that it could yet become an obligatory public health order.

There are now 3,131 people who have died of COVID-19 in Quebec, health authorities announced Tuesday, as confirmed cases in the province reached 39,225.

That’s up 118 from the 3,013 deaths reported Monday; COVID-19 cases in Quebec rose 756 from the 38,469 announced a day earlier.

Of those 118 newly reported deaths, 113 are in the Montreal region.

There are 1841 people being treated for COVID-19 in Quebec hospitals as of Tuesday, up only three from the 1.838 reported Monday. Of those in a hospital, 186 are in intensive care, down seven from the 193 reported 24 hours earlier.

There are 1,544 people waiting for COVID-19 test results in Quebec as of Tuesday, down 468 from the 2,012 reported Monday.

The number of people in Quebec who have recovered from COVID-19 as of Tuesday was 10,056, up 353 from the 9,703 recoveries reported a day earlier.

With 19,878 confirmed cases of COVID-19, Montreal remains the hardest hit area of the province; you can find a regional breakdown of COVID-19 in Quebec here.

- The Canadian Press contributed to this report