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Tuesday, 31 March 2020

WHO reiterates no-mask advice, saying it does not prevent one from getting coronavirus

An employee of the National Theater displays a face mask in a costume workshop in Prague, Czech Republic. The Czech Republic has made it mandatory that all people must cover their mouths and noses in public to stem the spread of the novel coronavirus called COVID-19. Improvised methods such as a scarf or homemade mask are allowed. Recommendations vary country by country, and in the U.S. the advice has been to eschew the masks unless you are sick or caring for someone with COVID-19. However, that may be about to change.
An employee of the National Theater displays a face mask in a costume workshop in Prague, Czech Republic. The Czech Republic has made it mandatory that all people must cover their mouths and noses in public to stem the spread of the novel coronavirus called COVID-19. Improvised methods such as a scarf or homemade mask are allowed. Recommendations vary country by country, and in the U.S. the advice has been to eschew the masks unless you are sick or caring for someone with COVID-19. However, that may be about to change.

To mask or not to mask? Global health experts advise against it, unless you are caring for someone with coronavirus, or are infected yourself.
But given a dearth of tests and the possibility of asymptomatic transmission, shouldn’t everyone be wearing them for that very reason? A growing call for recommending non-medical masks — so as not to take away from health care workers caught up in a dearth of supply — may be prompting the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to reconsider, The Washington Post reported Monday.
That aside, the World Health Organization (WHO) earlier Monday reiterated its call for people who are not sick to stop wearing masks unless they are caring for a coronavirus patient.
“There is no specific evidence to suggest that the wearing of masks by the mass population has any potential benefit,” Dr. Mike Ryan, executive director of the WHO health emergencies program, told reporters in Geneva on Monday, according to CNN. “In fact, there’s some evidence to suggest the opposite in the misuse of wearing a mask properly or fitting it properly.”
On top of that, Ryan continued, is the mass shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) worldwide, including masks.
“Right now the people most at risk from this virus are frontline health workers who are exposed to the virus every second of every day,” he said. “The thought of them not having masks is horrific.”
WHO has issued two instructive videos on how to wear them properly, and on when they are required.
Basically a mask is not useful in and of itself without other hygiene measures, careful donning and removal, and other precautions, WHO experts said.
They also caution against a potential false sense of security. Masks are not a substitute for social distancing.
Moreover, medical experts keep trumpeting, masks don’t prevent one from getting the virus. They merely stop someone from transmitting it, thus protecting others.

So what of asymptomatic people who might be transmitting the virus unwittingly? Should they wear masks?

The head of the Chinese CDC believes the answer is yes.

"The big mistake in the U.S. and Europe, in my opinion, is that people aren’t wearing masks,” George Gao, director-general of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), told Science Magazine. “This virus is transmitted by droplets and close contact. Droplets play a very important role — you’ve got to wear a mask, because when you speak, there are always droplets coming out of your mouth. Many people have asymptomatic or presymptomatic infections. If they are wearing face masks, it can prevent droplets that carry the virus from escaping and infecting others.”

Respiratory droplets — projected by coughing and sneezing — are what spreads the virus, experts say.

“There is nothing you can do to turn your risk to zero,” Harold Varmus, former director of the National Institutes of Health and the National Cancer Institute, told The Washington Post. “But we have to balance behaviors and resources in a rational way, and if you meet with someone for 20 seconds it’s different than if you meet for 20 hours.”

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