WHO updates mask advice, recommending they be worn in indoor, poorly ventilated areas

The World Health Organization on Wednesday tightened guidelines on wearing face masks, recommending that, where COVID-19 is spreading, they be worn by everyone in health-care facilities and for all interactions in poorly ventilated indoor spaces.

In June, the WHO urged governments to ask everyone to wear fabric masks in indoor and outdoor public areas where there was a risk of transmission of the virus.

Since then, a second global wave of the epidemic has gathered pace. In all, more than 63 million people globally have caught COVID-19 and 1.475 million have died of it, according to a Reuters tally.

In more detailed advice published on Wednesday, the WHO said that where the epidemic was spreading, people — including children and students aged 12 or over — should always wear masks in shops, workplaces and schools that lack adequate ventilation and when receiving visitors at home in poorly ventilated rooms.

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Masks should also be worn outdoors and in well ventilated indoor spaces where physical distancing of at least one metre can’t be maintained, WHO said.

Last month, Health Canada updated its guidelines saying to “protect yourself and others, wear a non-medical mask or face covering” when:

  • You’re in public and you might come into close contact with others.
  • You’re in shared indoor spaces with people from outside your immediate household
  • Advised by your local public health authority.

In all scenarios, masks needed to be accompanied by other precautions such as hand-washing, WHO said.

Depending on the type, WHO said masks can be used either for protection of healthy persons or to prevent transmission.

Medical masks to care for patients

In areas of COVID-19 spread, WHO also advised “universal” wearing of medical masks in health-care facilities, including when caring for other patients.

The advice applied to visitors, outpatients and to common areas such as cafeterias and staff rooms.

Health-care workers could wear N95 respirator masks if available when caring for COVID-19 patients, but their only proven protection is when they are doing aerosol-generating procedures which carry higher risks, the WHO said.

It recommended that people doing vigorous physical activity not wear masks, citing some associated risks, particularly for people with asthma.

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