The CDC and World Health Organization Disagree on This Major Mask Rule

The two public health institutions are at odds on best practices moving forward.

The coronavirus pandemic is well into its third month in the United States, and medical and public health experts are constantly adjusting best practices as new and reliable data emerges. Amid this course correction is the ongoing debate over the most effective use of face masks, and now the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) are each offering different guidelines to keep you and others around you safe.

The CDC still suggests ubiquitous mask wearing amid other social distancing guidelines, as a means to abate the spread of the COVID-19 contagion via aerosol droplets that are exhaled via coughing, sneezing, or even talking loudly. Research indicates that among the most dangerous places to contract the coronavirus are highly trafficked and poorly ventilated indoor areas, which is why, for example, wearing masks at grocery stores is vital for shoppers and staffers alike.

The WHO, however, now says that it is not necessary to wear a mask unless you are with someone sick. "If you are healthy, you only need to wear a mask if you are taking care of a person with COVID-19," the newly updated WHO guidelines read.

So which is the best approach? William Schaffner, MD, medical director of the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases, explained to ABC News that the answer may come down to what is most practical universally. In the U.S., for example, nearly everyone can find a mask or make one, which is not true in every country around the world, especially countries with fewer resources. Schaffner told ABC News that advising universal mask wearing in a place where it's impossible to adhere to that guidance could hurt the WHO's reputation in those countries.

Also, there are many developing nations that are having a difficult time providing PPE to essential healthcare workers, so the WHO's advisory provides room for medical and public health officials to have a priority on masks. And for more on what masks you shouldn't wear, check out This Is the Face Mask the CDC Doesn't Want You to Wear.

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