WHO released new guidelines on face masks

11 June 2020 07:44 am - 11     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}



By Kalani Kumarasinghe


The World Health Organization issued new guidelines on face masks, changing its stance on who should wear a face mask and when. The latest guidelines published on June 5 recommend that the public wear cloth masks made from at least three layers of fabric, especially when taking public transport and when physical distancing cannot be maintained. The World Health Organisation (WHO) maintained that the use of face masks should always be accompanied by frequent hand hygiene and physical distancing.

The updated guidelines also state that persons over 60 years of age, or with underlying conditions such as diabetes, chronic lung disease and cancer, should wear medical masks or surgical masks in areas where physical distancing cannot be practiced. 

The latest WHO update is noteworthy as the guideline comes months after several countries including Sri Lanka made wearing a face mask a mandatory health regulation, since the onset of the disease. But this is the first major update to be issued by the WHO since the update on April 6, advising the wide use of face masks. 

Asked if the Ministry of Health has updated its stance in line with the latest WHO update, Deputy Director General of Health Services Dr. Paba Palihawadana said the Ministry has not updated it’s guidelines on facemasks. “We have been recommending that people use a face mask when in crowded places, consistent with the guidelines we had set much earlier,” she said. 

"Recently we have specified that there is no need to wear a face mask when you're driving or travelling with family in a private vehicle," she added. "We have also recommended that people don't use a mask while exerting themselves more than usual, for instance while exercising at a gym," Dr. Palihawadana said.

Health experts around the world meanwhile have questioned the WHO’s latest updates on Covid-19. A debate on COVID-19 cases, ensued, evaluating whether the disease is being spread by people without any symptoms. The discussion has seen the public health agency attract brickbats than bouquets, while scientists and health workers worldwide have opined that the face mask update from the WHO has come months too late. 

The deadly disease has now crossed 7 million cases worldwide and surpassed 400,000 deaths. The WHO Director General did not fail to issue a warning at the press conference noting that it is still not time to relax efforts to contain the virus. “Masks can also create a false sense of security, leading people to neglect measures, such as hand hygiene and physical distancing. I cannot say this clearly enough: Masks alone will not protect you from Covid-19,” he said. 


What does the update specify?


Although the update doesn't cite specific studies or research, WHO says the guidelines were formulated based on evolving evidence. WHO advised governments to encourage the general public to wear masks where there is widespread COVID-19 transmission and physical distancing is difficult, such as in shops or in other confined or crowded environments," Director General of the World Health Organization Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said. 

The updated guidance also contains new information on the composition of fabric masks. While stressing that fabric or cloth masks should at least have three layers, it also provided guidance on how to wash maintain fabric masks. 

The WHO states that the use of cloth masks an alternative to medical masks is not considered appropriate for protection of health workers based. According to the agency, one study which evaluated the use of cloth masks in a health care facility found that health care workers using cotton cloth masks were at increased risk of influenza like illness, compared with those who wore medical masks.

The WHO also acknowledged that at present the widespread use of masks by healthy people in the community has not yet been supported by high quality or direct scientific evidence. It said that amidst a global shortage of surgical grade masks and Personal Protection Equipment (PPE), encouraging the public to make their own masks can even promote small scale enterprises. 

WHO said that depending on the fabric used to make masks, the filtration efficiency and breathability can either complement or work against one another. According to their research, two non-woven spunbound layers, (the material used for the external layers of disposable surgical masks) offer sufficient filtration and breathability. Fabric masks on the other hand are extremely breathable, offer more comfort, but offer low filtration. 

The WHO also adds a note to manufacturers of face masks to avoid the use of stretchable or elastic material. They said the material may stretch over the face, increasing it’s pore size over time and thereby resulting in very low filtration.  

Dr. Palihawadana however notes that in Sri Lanka, the public should use whatever is available to them. "Even if a person has symptoms, it is advisable to wear whatever mask you find available until you get to the hospital," Dr. Palihawadana said. She added that at present the Ministry has not deliberated on the duration of which face masks will be recommended for use in public. 

Face masks, whether surgical or fabric, must be used with utmost care. According to one study the heart rate, microclimate, temperature, humidity and subjective ratings were significantly influenced by the wearing of different kinds of face masks.





  Comments - 11

  • Malan Thursday, 11 June 2020 08:44 AM


    Sangaralingham Thursday, 11 June 2020 10:12 AM

    Senior citizens all with underlying diseases stay indoors .go out only if urgent essential. Safe distancing avoid crowded areas helps. Masks play a supportive role help you not pass disease to others. Patience is a virtue cultivate it now

    Rene Thursday, 11 June 2020 01:57 PM

    If anybody wants to know how to mishandle an issue then WHO handling covid19 at the epitome of mishandling

    camille Thursday, 11 June 2020 04:45 PM

    Oh please. If you want the epitome of mishandling that is the SL Govt who has disregarded most of the Medical Advice and still continues to do so. WHO is just being cautious, as are most other countries who do not have an election in their sights

    Dilum Monday, 15 June 2020 05:42 PM

    We don't have money to buy food, and they want us to buy all these expensive masks heh?

    Sushant Monday, 15 June 2020 05:47 PM

    Travel operators could refuse to let passengers on board if they are not covering their face - and those who refuse to follow the new protocol could face a fine. Exceptions will apply for very young children, disabled people, and those who have breathing difficulties.

    MASKS Monday, 15 June 2020 05:50 PM

    Will you start wearing a face mask? Yes, I want to protect myself and others No, I'd rather avoid public transport I don't know, I'm not sure if they really work

    Sriyal Perera Monday, 15 June 2020 05:54 PM

    Note Sri Lankans: current guidelines state the masks can provide some protection if standing more than a metre from infected patients.

    Mahendra Monday, 15 June 2020 09:44 PM

    Gandhi Hospital in India writes: DANGER OF FACE MASK . Mask is supposed to be used for a limited time. If you wear it for a long time: I. Oxygen in the blood reduces ii Oxygen to the brain reduces iii You start feeling weak iv May lead to death. ADVICE a. Pull it off when you are alone - not for use within a car, having AC on. b. Do not use it at home. c. Only use it in crowded places and when in close contact with one or more persons. d. Reduce the use of it while isolating yourself most of the times. STAY SAFE

    Pamela Tuesday, 16 June 2020 09:22 AM

    Asking everyone to wear cloth masks can help reduce the spread of the coronavirus by people who have COVID-19 but don't realize it. And countries that required face masks, testing, isolation and social distancing early in the pandemic seem to have had some success slowing the spread of the virus. Cloth masks are cheap and simple to make. Instructions are easy to find online.

    ReaderD Saturday, 20 June 2020 09:31 AM

    Will health authorities here explain clearly and promptly about suitable masks for regular use, Says 3 layer then can it be woven (cotton,silk etc) or non woven {synthetic like PP) Specifying this is important as many products in market.

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