World Health Organization encourages masks where physical distancing is hard

WHO: Fabric masks need 3 layers to best curb coronavirus spread

World Health Organisation: Wear a face mask

People over 60 or with health issues should wear a medical-grade mask when they are out and can not socially distance, according to new guidance from the World Health Organization, while all others should wear a three-layer fabric mask.

WHO recommends that where there is widespread transmission, limited capacity to contain Covid-19 outbreaks and physical distancing of at least a meter cannot be achieved, then governments should encourage their public to wear a fabric mask, Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO's technical lead for coronavirus response and head of the emerging diseases and zoonoses unit, told CNN.

"Masks can also create a false sense of security, leading people to neglect measures such as hand hygiene and physical distancing", he said.

This guidance is based on evolving evidence, and provides updated advice on who should wear a mask, when it should be worn and what it should be made of.

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The WHO was asked about any guidance for political leaders in the United States, where it was noted some key leaders at the White House did have masks on at a press conference Friday.

"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 in the fight against COVID-19", said Tedros.

However given that advice has been broadened to suggest staff getting into contact with any patients or residents in clinics, hospitals, care domiciles and long-term residential facilities should also wear masks at all times.

As before, those caring for an infected person at home should wear a medical mask when in the same room; and health workers should wear medical masks plus protective equipment when dealing with suspected or confirmed Covid-19 patients. The new WHO recommendations also lag behind those of other major health agencies, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

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But in an update affecting healthcare workers, the WHO now recommends that in areas with widespread virus transmission, all people working in clinical areas of a health facility should wear medical masks - not just those dealing with patients with Covid-19.

In its new guidance, prompted by evidence from studies conducted in recent weeks, the World Health Organization stressed that face masks were just one of a selection of tools that may reduce the threat of viral transmission, and should not offer a false sense of protection. "That is every country's best defence against Covid-19".

However, in situations when physical distancing is not possible, such as using public transportation, masks can help reduce the risk of spreading the virus, Ryan said.

'That is what we know works. "The cornerstone of the response in every country must be to find, isolate, test, and care for every case, and to trace and quarantine every contact".

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In the U.S., legislation around masks is decided on a state-level - or even at a county-level in some cases.

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