WebMD News Brief

WHO Changes Stance, Says Public Should Wear Masks

masked face with needle

June 8, 2020 -- The World Health Organization has changed its stance on wearing face masks during the COVID-19 pandemic.People over 60 and people with underlying medical conditions should wear a medical-grade mask when they’re in public and cannot socially distance, the WHO said. The general public should wear a three-layer fabric mask in those situations.

The WHO also updated their advice for medical workers, saying all of them should always wear a medical mask while in clinical areas, not just people working with COVID-19 patients.

The organization had previously said there wasn’t enough medical evidence to support members of the public wearing a mask, unless they were sick or around people with the coronavirus. The widespread wearing of masks might lead to a mask shortage for medical workers and create a false sense of security in the public, WHO officials had said.

WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, speaking Friday during a media briefing in Geneva, said WHO’s stance was based on new research.

"In areas with widespread transmission, the WHO advises medical masks for all people working in clinical areas of a health facility, not only workers dealing with patients with COVID-19," Tedros said, according to CNN.

"Second, 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," Tedros said.

Third, he said, "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."

The WHO guidance says people can make their own three-layer masks by using an inner layer of an absorbent material, such as cotton or cotton blends; a middle layer made of a non-woven material polypropylene or cotton to enhance filtration of droplets; and an outer layer of a non-absorbent material such polypropylene, polyester, or their blends. Stretchy, porous materials should be avoided.

The WHO guidance says masks should only be worn by one person and should be changed if soiled or wet. Masks should be washed at high temperatures or, if hot water is not available, boiled for one minute.

Wearing masks isn’t enough to protect a person from the virus, the WHO said.

“The use of a mask alone is insufficient to provide an adequate level of protection or source control, and other personal and community level measures should also be adopted to suppress transmission of respiratory viruses,” the WHO said.

WebMD Health News Brief Reviewed by Michael W. Smith, MD on June 08, 2020

Sources

CNN. "WHO calls on nations to encourage the public to wear fabric face masks where coronavirus is spreading"

World Health Organization. “Advice on the use of masks in the context of COVID-19”

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