The Grapevine

WHO: Face Masks Are Not Effective In Preventing COVID-19 Spread In Asymptomatic People

The World Health Organisations (WHO) updated its recommendations on April 6, saying that there is not enough evidence to suggest that wearing masks can protect asymptomatic people from the widespread COVID-19 infection. However, the organisation acknowledged that masks could prevent the disease from spreading, albeit with several limitations. 

The scientific and technical advisory committee said that the virus can only be transmitted via droplets and surfaces on which it can survive for up to three hours. Social distancing and washing hands frequently are the best ways to reduce the chances of that happening, rather than wearing a mask, the WHO said. 

The updated document on the website specifically states that only those exhibiting symptoms of the disease should sport a mask. They should also self-quarantine themselves and contact medical personnel for further assistance. However, caregivers of patients and people showing symptoms should mandatorily protect themselves by wearing a mask when present in the same room.

“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 advice,” WHO Director Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said at a media conference on April 1. While countries have the freedom to adopt their own directives, the WHO has outlined some potential risks that they should consider before making this decision. 

These WHO guidelines are therefore a huge contradiction to the instructions issued in other countries such as Singapore, China and Korea. In the U.S., Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently recommended all Americans to wear face masks before stepping out. The following are the risks that communities will be taking by enforcing a rule telling people to wear masks, as per WHO's revised advise:

  • The mask could lead to breathing difficulty depending on its material and fitting.
  • It could provide people with a false sense of assurance that they are doing enough in terms of self-preservation. They might stop adhering to other necessities such as hand-washing and maintaining social distance as a result.
  • Also, reusing a mask and touching it again could cause infection if not disposed. 
  • Mask supplies could be diverted to the public rather than reaching health care workers who need them the most, which in turn diverts resources to help the public recover faster. 

Professor David Heymann, who presided over the WHO's advisory group, explained that masks are not meant for protecting oneself, particularly people who are not healthcare workers on the frontlines of the pandemic.“People think they are protected when they are not. Healthcare workers, in addition to the masks, wear visors too, to protect the eyes,” Heymann told The Guardian.

Face masks Face masks are used to help slow the spread of contagious diseases. The material absorbs droplets when the user coughs or sneezes, preventing the virus from spreading into air and surfaces. Janko Ferlic/Pexels

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