The agency previously had recommended that health care workers, people with COVID-19 and their caregivers wear medical masks.
The World Health Organization is broadening its recommendations for the use of masks during the coronavirus pandemic and said Friday it is now advising that in areas where the virus is spreading, people should wear masks when social distancing is not possible, such as on public transportation and in shops.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said people over age 60 or with underlying medical conditions also should wear masks in situations where social distancing cannot be maintained. WHO previously had recommended that health care workers, people with COVID-19 and their caregivers wear medical masks.
During a press briefing discussing the revised guidance, Tedros added that “masks on their own will not protect you from COVID-19” and emphasized the importance of hand-washing, social distancing and other infection-prevention strategies.
WHO also widened its mask guidance to specify that health workers in areas where the virus is spreading freely should always wear masks inside medical facilities. Doctors working in cardiology or other wards, for example, should wear medical masks even if the facilities had no known coronavirus patients, Tedros said.
Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO’s technical lead on COVID-19, said the updated recommendations were based on new research commissioned by the U.N. health agency.
Other health agencies, including the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, have recommended for some time the wearing of masks or face coverings by the general public to slow the spread of the coronavirus. British authorities said this week that face coverings would be compulsory on subways and other mass transit.