Women wearing masks; covid-19 in uae
People, wearing masks as a precautionary measure, walk past a street at Business Bay area in Dubai. Image Credit: Ahmed Ramzan/ Gulf News

Dubai: The World Health Organisation (WHO) has updated its guidance on who should wear masks, when they should be worn and what they should be made of, based on evolving evidence.

The new guidance, details of which were revealed by Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of WHO, over the weekend cautions the public against developing a false sense of security when they wear masks as the protective gear can be of little use if other preventive measures are not adhered to.

Residents seen wearing face masks after exiting towering inferno in Sharjah
Sharjah residents in masks. Picture for illustration only Image Credit: Supplied

The WHO said masks are not a replacement for physical distancing, hand hygiene and other public health measures.

“I cannot say this clearly enough: Masks alone will not protect you from COVID-19. Masks are only a benefit as part of a comprehensive approach,” said Dr Ghebreyesus.

Masks can be used either for protection of healthy persons (worn to protect oneself when in contact with an infected individual) or for source control (worn by an infected individual to prevent onward transmission). However, the use of a mask alone is insufficient to provide an adequate level of protection or source control, and other personal and community level measures should also be adopted to suppress transmission of respiratory viruses, the WHO said.

So what’s new?

In places with widespread transmission, WHO has advised medical masks for all people working in clinical areas of a health facility, not only workers dealing with patients with COVID-19. That means that when a doctor is doing a ward round on the cardiology or palliative care units where there are no confirmed COVID-19 patients, they should still wear a medical mask.

In areas with community transmission, people aged 60 years or over, or those with underlying conditions, are advised to wear a medical mask in situations where physical distancing is not possible.

WHO has also updated its guidance on the use of masks by the general public in areas with community transmission. In light of evolving evidence, WHO has advised that governments should encourage the general public to wear masks where there is widespread transmission and physical distancing is difficult, such as on public transport, in shops or in other confined or crowded environments.

What has not changed

WHO continues to recommend that people who are sick with symptoms of COVID-19 should remain at home, and should consult their health care provider.

People confirmed to have COVID-19 should be isolated and cared for in a health facility and their contacts should be quarantined.

If it is absolutely necessary for a sick person or a contact to leave the house, they should wear a medical mask.

WHO continues to advise that people caring for an infected person at home should wear a medical mask while they are in the same room as the sick person.

Composition of masks

Based on new research, WHO, among other things, advises that fabric masks should consist of at least three layers of different material. Details of these materials are available on its website (https://www.who.int/). It has also provided recommendations on how to wash and maintain a fabric mask and how to use masks in general safely.

Danger of self-contamination

Highlighting the implications of mismanaged masks, the WHO has warned the public against the risk of self-contamination due to manipulation of masks and subsequent touching of the eyes with contaminated hands.

It said self-contamination can occur if non-medical masks are not changed when wet or soiled and can result in facial skin lesions, irritant dermatitis or worsening acne, when used inappropriately for long hours.

It said masks could lead to a false sense of security, leading to potentially lower adherence to other critical preventive measures such as physical distancing and hand hygiene.

Correct use of masks

• Perform hand hygiene before putting on the mask;

• Place the mask carefully, ensuring it covers the mouth and nose, adjust to the nose bridge, and tie it securely to minimise any gaps between the face and the mask;

• Avoid touching the mask while wearing it;

• Remove the mask using the appropriate technique: do not touch the front of the mask but untie it from behind.

• After removal or whenever a used mask is inadvertently touched, clean hands with an alcohol-based handrub, or soap and water if hands are visibly dirty;

• Replace masks as soon as they become damp with a new clean, dry mask;

• Do not re-use single-use masks;

• Discard single-use masks after each use and dispose of them immediately upon removal.