(Photo by JANEK SKARZYNSKI/AFP via Getty Images)
NEW YORK — The World Health Organization is recommending healthy people, including those who don’t exhibit COVID-19 symptoms, only wear masks when taking care of someone infected with the contagion, a sharp contrast from the advice given by American public health officials who recommend everyone wear a mask in public.
“If you do not have any repository symptoms such as fever, cough or runny nose, you do not need to wear a mask,” Dr. April Baller, a public health specialist for the WHO, says in a video on the world health body’s website posted in March. “Masks should only be used by health care workers, caretakers or by people who are sick with symptoms of fever and cough.”
The recommendation has not changed and differs from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which urges individuals to wear a mask or face covering in public settings, regardless of infection or not, to limit the spread of the virus.
“We now know from recent studies that a significant portion of individuals with coronavirus lack symptoms (‘asymptomatic’) and that even those who eventually develop symptoms (‘pre-symptomatic’) can transmit the virus to others before showing symptoms,” the CDC mask guidance says. “In light of this new evidence, CDC recommends wearing cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain.”
Baller noted that masks can give people a “false feeling of protection” and noted that sick individuals should wear one to prevent transmitting the virus to others.
Messages to the WHO from Fox News were not immediately returned.
The CDC recommended last month that people wear nonsurgical face coverings when out in public after previously advising only health care workers and people exhibiting symptoms to do so. A new study suggests that wearing masks could cut COVID-19 cases by 80 percent if people heeded the advice.
“Universal masking at 80 [percent] adoption flattens the curve significantly more than maintaining a strict lockdown,” a group of international researchers wrote in the study, which has not yet been peer-reviewed.
The authors noted that countries and regions — Macau, Beijing, Taiwan, Singapore and Japan — with histories of wearing masks have seen huge reductions in the number of coronavirus cases after reaching their peak.
A separate study released earlier this month divided scientists on the effectiveness of wearing masks.