WHO: Healthy people still don’t need to wear masks for coronavirus protection, but that guidance could change

  • During a media briefing on April 1, the World Health Organisation director-general said face masks should be worn by healthcare professionals, sick people, and their caretakers.
  • The organisation will continue to review the evidence looking at whether healthy people could benefit from wearing masks, too.
  • The advice has been mixed in the past as to whether it makes sense for healthy people to wear masks in an effort to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19.
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Face mask priority should still go to healthcare workers, people who are sick with COVID-19, and their caretakers, the World Health Organisation director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said during a media briefing on April 1.

According to the WHO, healthy people don’t need to wear face masks – yet.

“We’re continuing to study the evidence about the use of masks. WHO’s priority is that frontline health workers are able to access essential personal protective equipment, including medical masks and respirators,” Tedros said, adding that the organisation is working with governments and manufacturers to step up production of such equipment.

While he acknowledged there’s debate about whether healthy members of the community should wear masks, Tedros said the WHO recommends medical masks “for people who are sick and those caring for them,” along with other protective measures.

Still, he suggested the recommendation could change as more data emerges.

“Who continues to gather all available evidence and continues to evaluate the potential use of masks more broadly to control COVID-19 transmission at the community level,” he said. “This is still a very new virus and we’re learning all the time. As the pandemic evolves, so does the evidence, and so does our advice.”

Advice about masks remains mixed

Across the world, people have been debating when, where, how, and who should wear face masks, with some turning their bras into homemade masks, costume makers joining production efforts, and the US Food and Drug Administration calling the supply chain for paper surgical masks “stressed.

Experts have disagreed, too, with some authorities begging healthy people to stop buying masks, while others have conceded that the masks may be beneficial, especially if worn before people know they are sick.

“The argument … about everybody wearing a mask is not that it will prevent everyone from getting infected – it’s that it will slow down transmission in the community a bit,” Ben Cowling, a professor of epidemiology and a mask researcher at the University of Hong Kong’s School of Public Health, previously told Business Insider. “That’s already useful. Just to have even a small effect is useful.”