WHO guidance advises mask use in public

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The World Health Organization (WHO) issued guidance on Friday advising the use of cloth masks for the prevention and control of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) infection, according to a statement released by the agency.

The guidance builds upon existing recommendations, and states everyone should wear non-medical cloth masks in public settings, settings with high population density, and settings where physical distancing cannot be achieved, such as grocery stores, offices, and social gatherings. Additionally, all healthcare workers and high-risk individuals should wear medical masks in certain settings.

According to the WHO, COVID-19 is primarily transmitted between people via respiratory droplets and contact routes. Droplet transmission occurs when a person is in close contact with an infected person and exposure to potentially infective respiratory droplets occurs, for example, through coughing or sneezing. Current evidence suggests that most transmission of COVID-19 occurs from symptomatic people to others in close contact when not wearing appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE).

The recommendations also included guidelines for type of materials, mask shape, and maintenance. The guidance reiterates best practices for handwashing, improving airflow and ventilation in living spaces, and ensuring adequate cleaning and disinfection of touch surfaces.   

As hospitals in the U.S. continue to face supply shortages of PPE, the guidance affirms recommendations to reserve medical masks, defined as surgical or procedure masks that are flat or pleated and are affixed to the head with straps that go around the ears or head or both, for healthcare workers.

The WHO said the purpose of the guidelines is to promote prevention based on the best currently available evidence and said the agency will update recommendations as more clinical evidence becomes available.

Editor’s note: Click here for more information and ongoing COVID-19 updates for integrative healthcare professionals.