WHO: No evidence wearing a mask can protect healthy people from coronavirus

The World Health Organization (WHO) said masks should only be worn by health care workers and those who are infected.

By Joseph Guzman

The World Health Organization (WHO) says healthy people don’t need to wear face masks to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, and masks should only be for those who are sick, their caretakers and health care workers. 

In guidance released by WHO Monday, the United Nations public health agency said “there is currently no evidence that wearing a mask (whether medical or other types) by healthy persons in the wider community setting, including universal community masking, can prevent them from infection with respiratory viruses, including COVID-19.”

WHO said the use of medical masks among the general public could create a false sense of security and cause people to ignore social distancing measures and hygiene practices.

WHO said another concern is people may contaminate themselves by touching their face more frequently when they adjust, remove and dispose of their masks. 

The agency said masks should be reserved for those who are infected with the virus or are in close contact with infected patients. People experiencing cough or shortness of breath or other symptoms of COVID-19 should also wear masks even if they have not tested positive, and should self-isolate and seek medical attention.

The agency reviewed its position on masks after data from Hong Kong suggested the widespread use of masks in the community may have reduced the spread of COVID-19 in some regions. 

But the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued new guidance last week recommending people wear homemade masks or face coverings to stop the spread of coronavirus, a reversal for the agency that said at the beginning of the outbreak healthy people did not need to wear mask because it would not protect them from contracting the disease. 

Research released in recent weeks indicates people can have the virus, show no symptoms and unknowingly pass it to others. The CDC says wearing face coverings could prevent that.

“In light of this new evidence, CDC recommends wearing cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain,” the CDC said, listing grocery stores and pharmacies as examples. 

The CDC said people should not wear or purchase surgical masks or N95 respirators because they are needed for health care workers and are in short supply. 

The CDC also emphasized what WHO has stressed, the idea that wearing face coverings is not a replacement for social distancing measures, such as staying home whenever possible and staying six feet away from people outside. 

The coronavirus spreads through tiny droplets that are released when an infected person coughs, sneezes or talks and droplets land on another person or surface. WHO and the CDC advise the public to practice self-isolation, good hygiene and social distancing to stay healthy.

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