Reducing Risk of Coronavirus (2019-nCoV): WHO guidelines on masks


With the current information available, it is suggested that the route of human-to-human transmission of 2019-nCoV is either via respiratory droplets or contact. Any person who is in close contact (within 1 meter) with someone who has respiratory symptoms (e.g., sneezing, coughing, etc.) is at risk of being exposed to potentially infective respiratory droplets.

Wearing a medical mask is one of the prevention measures to limit spread of 2019-nCoV. However, the use of a mask alone is insufficient to provide the adequate level of protection and other equally relevant measures should be adopted. If masks are to be used, this measure must be combined with hand hygiene and other measures to prevent the human-to-human transmission of 2019-nCov.

Individuals without respiratory symptoms should:

  • Avoid agglomerations and frequency of closed crowded spaces;
  • Maintain distance of at least 1 meter from any individual with 2019-nCoV respiratory symptoms (e.g., coughing, sneezing);
  • Perform hand hygiene frequently, using alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water;
  • If coughing or sneezing cover nose and mouth with flexed elbow or paper tissue, dispose of tissue immediately after use and perform hand hygiene;
  • Refrain from touching mouth and nose;
  • A medical mask is not required, as no evidence is available on its usefulness to protect non-sick persons. However, masks might be worn in some countries according to local cultural habits or under required circumstances. If masks are used, best practices should be followed on how to wear, remove, and dispose of them and on hand hygiene action after removal (also see advice regarding appropriate Mask Management).

Relatives or caregivers (while with individuals with suspected 2019-nCoV infection with mild respiratory symptoms) should:

  • Perform hand hygiene frequently, using alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water;
  • Keep distance from affected individual as much as possible (at least 1 meter);
  • Wear a medical mask when in the same room with the affected individual. Dispose it immediately after use. Clean hands immediately;
  • Improve airflow in living space by opening windows as much as possible.

Wearing medical masks when not indicated may cause unnecessary cost, procurement burden and create a false sense of security that can lead to neglecting other essential measures such as hand hygiene practices. Furthermore, using a mask incorrectly may hamper its effectiveness to reduce the risk of transmission.

Masks management:

Cloth (e.g. cotton or gauze) masks are not recommended under any circumstance. If medical masks are worn, appropriate use and disposal is essential to ensure they are effective and to avoid any increase in risk of transmission associated with the incorrect use and disposal of masks.

The following information on correct use of medical masks derives from the practices in health-care settings:

  • Place mask carefully to cover mouth and nose and tie securely to minimise any gaps between the face and the mask;
  • While in use, avoid touching the mask;
  • Remove the mask by using appropriate technique (i.e. do not touch the front but remove the lace from behind);
  • After removal or whenever you inadvertently touch a used mask, clean hands by using an alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water
  • Replace masks with a new clean, dry mask as soon as they become damp/humid;
  • Do not re-use single-use masks;
  • Discard single-use masks after each use and dispose of them immediately upon removal.

Source: WHO; Advice on the use of masks the community, during home care and in health care settings in the context of the novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) outbreak, Interim guidance, 29 January 2020

Important Note: Several studies that have since been carried out now indicate that wearing a mask, even a cloth mask in situations of wide community transmission where physical distancing cannot be maintained, can create a physical barrier to the virus if you cough. Therefore, given this new science outcome, the WHO is now recommending that cloth masks can have a role in situations where it’s difficult for people to keep a physical distance.

Also Read…

Runaway Rant: Coronavirus on a Rampage

COVID-19: Disinfecting Your Homes and Offices

Covid-19 Pandemic: Safe Return to Work and Business Continuity

About Sustainable Safety Solutions, NEPAL

Environmental / Occupational Health & Safety for Planet, People and Profit.
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3 Responses to Reducing Risk of Coronavirus (2019-nCoV): WHO guidelines on masks

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