Coronavirus face masks should be worn in public, WHO says in updated guidance

In a continued effort to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus, the World Health Organization (WHO) on Friday updated its guidance to recommend that governments around the world encourage the widespread use of fabric face masks while in public settings.

“Governments should encourage the general public to wear masks where there is widespread transmission and physical distancing is difficult, such as on public transport or in shops,” WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said during a press briefing on Friday.

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The global health agency recommended fabric face masks for most people, but those in high-risk groups — such as people over the age of 65 or those who suffer from underlying health conditions — should consider using medical-grade masks.

“We are advising governments to encourage that the general public wear a mask. And we specify a fabric mask —  that is, a non-medical mask,” Maria Van Kerkhove, the WHO’s technical lead expert on COVID-19, told Reuters. “We have new research findings. We have evidence now that if this is done properly it can provide a barrier ... for potentially infectious droplets.”

Indeed, the new guidance appears to stem from recent studies that have concluded face mask usage can help prevent a COVID-19 infection. However, other precautions — namely frequent hand washing and keeping at least 6 feet away from others while in public, when possible — should also be adhered to, experts have warned.

“Masks on their own will not protect you from COVID-19,” Tedros said during the briefing, per Reuters.

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Initially, the WHO advised only those who are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 or are caring for someone infected with the novel virus to wear a face mask. The WHO’s new recommendations also lag behind those from other top health agencies, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

In April, the CDC updated its guidelines to recommend all Americans wear cloth face coverings while in public, “especially in areas of significant community-based transmission."

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