Medical masks such as N95 and surgical masks are now recommended for all individuals where there is widespread transmission of COVID-19, the World Health Organisation said, updating its guidelines on the usage of face covers and masks.
The organisation had earlier stated that medical masks were only required for healthcare workers overseeing infected individuals and for those who had contracted SARS-CoV-2, the virus which causes COVID-19.
Addressing the media at a press briefing, the Director General of the WHO Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebresyeus stated that medical masks are advised for all individuals working in a clinic setting in areas where there widespread transmission of the disease, not only limited to those who are overseeing COVID-19 patients. He also added that in areas with community transmission, people above the age of 60 and above and those with comorbidities should use masks when physical distancing is not possible.
The WHO has also stated that in areas with known community transmission the public should also use medical masks.
“In light of current evolving evidence WHO advises governments to 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, or other confined and crowded environments,” stated Dr Tedros.
India has yet to officially confirm community transmission of the coronavirus, although many experts believe that community transmission is underway.
He further went on to add that based on recent research done, the WHO advised that fabric masks (cloth masks/face coverings) that people use should be made up of three layers of different materials — .an innermost layer of a hydrophilic material (e.g. cotton or cotton blends), an outermost layer made of hydrophobic material (e.g, polypropylene, polyester, or their blends) and a middle hydrophobic layer of synthetic non-woven material such as polyproplylene or a cotton layer which may enhance filtration or retain droplets.
Dr Tedros also strictly emphasised that the use of masks is not a replacement for basic public health measures which have been implemented, and that the same must be continued to follow.
“I wish to be very clear that the guidance we are publishing today is an update of what we have been saying for months: that masks should only ever be used as part of a comprehensive strategy. Masks on their own will not protect you from COVID-19,” stated Dr Tedros.
He further stated that taking precautions such as washing hands, practicing physical distancing and other routinely advised measures were the best methods to keep oneself safe.