COVID-19: World Health Organization recommends use of masks where there is no social distancing
The World Health Organization will expand the recommendation for the use of face masks during the coronavirus pandemic. It announced Friday that it now advises that in areas where the virus is spreading, people should wear a cloth mask when distancing not possible, such as public transport and shops.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that people over the age of 60 or with underlying diseases should also wear face masks when they cannot maintain social distance.
The WHO had previously recommended that only health workers, people with COVID-19, and their caregivers wear medical masks due to a shortage of supplies.
During a press conference on the revised recommendations, Tedros added that “masks alone will not protect you from COVID-19.” The director emphasized the importance of handwashing, social distancing, and other strategies to prevent infection.
The WHO also expanded its recommendations for mask use to specify that health workers in areas where the virus is freely spreading should always wear masks inside medical facilities.
Doctors working in cardiology wards, for example, should wear medical masks even if their facilities do not have known coronavirus patients, Tedros said.
Maria Van Kerkhove, technical director of COVID-19 at WHO, said the updated recommendations are based on new research commissioned by the agency. Other health agencies, such as the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, have recommended for some time that the general public use face masks or masks to contain the coronavirus spread.
British authorities said this week that wearing face masks on the subway and other mass transportation will be mandatory.
April Baller, a WHO infection control expert, said the recommended face masks for the general public are cloth ones that can be made at home. She added that part of the reason the use of masks was recommended was growing evidence that COVID-19 can spread through people before manifesting symptoms.
WHO previously stated that transmission of symptom-free people was not believed to be a major driver of the coronavirus pandemic. “What they (masks) do is prevent a person who is likely to have the disease from passing it on to someone else,” Baller said.