WHO Just Completely Changed Its Coronavirus Face Mask Guidelines
Previously, the World Health Organization recommended masks in two situations. That's no longer the case.
One of the most politically charged topics amid the coronavirus pandemic has been the use of face masks. And two of the most trusted health agencies in the world have had different recommendations on the topic. While the World Health Organization (WHO) long recommended wearing a face mask only if you were sick or if someone around you was, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has suggested wearing a face covering whenever social distancing (maintaining six feet of distance) is not possible. However, WHO just announced that face masks should be more ubiquitous around the globe than they previously indicated.
On Friday, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said during a media briefing in Geneva: "In areas with community transmission, we advise that people aged 60 years or over, or those with underlying conditions, should wear a medical mask in situations where physical distancing is not possible."
As far as the general public in areas where COVID-19 is spreading, Ghebreyesus added that:
In light of evolving evidence, WHO advises that governments should encourage the general public to wear masks where there is widespread transmission and physical distancing is difficult, such as on public transport, in shops or in other confined or crowded environments.
Based on new research, Ghebreyesus said, "WHO advises that fabric masks should consist of at least three layers of different material." These layers should include an inner layer of an absorbent material like cotton; a middle layer that acts like a filter or barrier (for example, a non-woven material polypropylene); and an outer layer of a non-absorbent material, like a polyester or polyester blend.
So, why did it take so long for WHO to recommend mask wearing across the board? William Schaffner, MD, medical director of the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases, recently explained to ABC News that while nearly everyone can find a mask or make one in the U.S., that's not true in every country around the world, especially those with fewer resources. 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, Schaffner said.
After all, there are many developing nations that are having a difficult time providing PPE to essential healthcare workers, so the WHO's previous guidelines were intended to give medical and public health officials the priority on masks.
In his announcement, Ghebreyesus made clear that "masks alone will not protect you from COVID-19."
Masks are not a replacement for physical distancing, hand hygiene and other public health measures. Masks are only of benefit as part of a comprehensive approach in the fight against COVID-19. The cornerstone of the response in every country must be to find, isolate, test and care for every case, and to trace and quarantine every contact. That is what we know works. That is every country's best defense against COVID-19.
And for more on the facts and fallacies about masks, check out 10 Myths About Face Masks You Need to Know.