Coronavirus: countries rethink advice on face masks and coatings


  • Health officials are reconsidering their advice that told most people not to wear masks during the coronavirus epidemic.
  • While health organizations in Europe and the United States have told people not to wear masks unless they show symptoms or treat infected people
  • The WHO and US CDC is now reviewing, while others have gone further.
  • Austria and Israel have announced new rules requiring people to cover their faces outside.
  • Most authorities are planning to ask people to wear non-medical masks or use clothing such as clothing covering their faces, so that surgical masks can be used only by health workers.
  • Visit the Business Insider home page for more stories.

Countries, states and cities around the world are beginning to rethink their councils that have said that wearing face masks and covers is not an effective protection against coronavirus for most people.

Health authorities in Europe and the United States, as well as the WHO, have declared that wearing a mask is not necessary unless you already have symptoms or if you work in a job that involves caring infected people.

The US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) states that “you do not need to wear a mask unless you are caring for a sick person (and they are not able to wear a mask)”.

N95 masks

N95 breathing masks in a 3M laboratory, in Minnesota, United States, on March 4, 2020.

Reuters / Nicholas Pfosi

In a tweet at the end of February, the American Surgeon General wrote: “STOP BUYING MASKS! They are NOT effective in preventing the general public from catching #Coronavirus. “

WHO and the CDC are now reassessing their advice on face masks and covers, along with officials from some American states and some European governments. The Surgeon General also said this week that he was re-examining his position.

A group of WHO advisers is currently assessing whether the virus can spread further than expected through the air. The chairman of the panel told the BBC that the results could change their opinion.

“WHO is opening its discussion again by examining the new evidence to see whether or not there should be a change in the way it recommends the use of masks,” said Professor David Heymann.

The CDC could also begin to urge Americans to cover their faces in public, according to the Washington Post. Two federal officials told the Post that the CDC is debating a policy change that would require people to use clothing and other materials to keep the appropriate masks free for medical personnel.

Hanno Kautz, spokesperson for the German Ministry of Health, said the country could also consider forcing people to wear non-medical masks when they go to supermarkets.

Berlin germany coronavirus lock

The empty Brandenburg Gate is pictured during the epidemic of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Berlin, Germany, March 25, 2020.

Fabrizio Bensch / Reuters

He would follow neighboring Austria, which announced on Monday a new rule requiring people to wear masks when going out.

Sebastian Kurz, Chancellor of Austria, noted that the masks are “foreign to our culture”, but said the country should try to find new ways to fight the virus.

So far, advice in countries like Germany has been consistent with advice in some other European states. For example, the Irish health service says that “the use of masks is unlikely to be helpful if you are not sick”, and UK health officials give similar advice.

But three European countries – Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Bosnia and Herzegovina – have already made it mandatory to wear masks in public, according to the Financial Times.

NY coronavirus test

Health care professionals test COVID-19 at the ProHEALTH test site in Jericho, New York, March 24, 2020.

Steve Pfost / Newsday RM via Getty Images

In the United States, Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti said he couldn’t wait for further advice from the CDC and told everyone to start wearing masks.

He said people should stay at home if possible and use non-medical face covers like clothes when they go out. The governor of California did not make the same call.

And the Israeli Prime Minister said on Wednesday that everyone should wear masks when going out and use “a scarf or other face covering” if they are not found, Reuters reported.

In the midst of a global shortage of masks, a need to prioritize health workers

But countries around the world are already facing serious shortages of masks, leaving healthcare workers who treat patients without. Some wear plastic sheeting as an alternative, or break health guidelines by reusing the same mask.

N95 coronavirus masks

A sign tells customers that all N95 face masks are sold at Marin Ace Hardware in San Rafael, California on March 2, 2020.

Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

In the United States, for example, the $ 7 billion federal stock of equipment, including masks, which had been maintained to deal with a public health emergency is almost out of protective equipment.

And the CDC was forced to update its guidelines to say that health workers could use a bandana or scarf to cover their faces if they did not have a mask.

Given these problems, many countries have encouraged people not to buy masks, as this would decrease the number available for medical staff and those working with infected people.

The CDC is currently saying on its website that “face masks may be rare and they should be kept for caregivers. “

Health officials also warned that non-medical face masks and covers could actually help spread the virus if people wore them incorrectly.

As Hilary Brueck of Business Insider reported, scientific studies on the effectiveness of face masks have had inconclusive results, some finding that they can help slow the spread of a virus, but others suggesting that they are not worth wearing.

But they can help stop the spread if everyone is wearing them, as it can prevent people who have no symptoms and don’t know they are infected from spreading it to others.

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