The World Health Organization (WHO) has published updated guidance on mask wearing amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

The new document published on Wednesday includes both guidance issued in December and August of last year, and some new guidance issued Wednesday for mask wearing in community settings.

The WHO says wearing masks in settings where there is a community or cluster transmission of COVID-19 is now strongly recommended.

The organization said masks should be worn in these settings “irrespective of vaccination status or history of prior infection.”

The WHO says a “well fitting mask” that covers the nose and mouth should be worn by people interacting with those who are not members of their household, in a number of settings.

The updated WHO guidance said masks should be worn:

  • In indoor settings with poor or unknown ventilation or where the ventilation system is not maintained, “regardless of whether physical distancing of at least one metre can be maintained.”
  • Indoors with adequate ventilation where physical distancing of one metre can’t be maintained.
  • In outdoor settings where a one-metre distance can’t be maintained.

The WHO also now says those who are at a higher risk of severe complications from COVID-19 should wear a medical mask in any situation where a physical distance of one metre cannot be maintained.

The organization defines higher-risk populations as those 60 and older and people with “underlying comorbidities” such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, chronic lung disease, cancer, cerebrovascular disease, immunosuppression, obesity or asthma.

GENERAL WHO MASK GUIDANCE

The updates on Wednesday build upon general mask guidance issued by the WHO back in December of 2020, which said masks are a “key measure to suppress transmission” of COVID-19 and “save lives.”

The organization says non-medical, fabric masks should be used by the general public.

Meanwhile, the WHO said health workers, anyone feeling unwell or who is experiencing COVID-19 symptoms should wear a medical mask.

Additionally, the WHO said those awaiting test results or who have tested positive for the COVID-19, and those caring for someone with the virus, should also wear a medical mask.

Individuals who are at a higher risk of severe illness from COVID-19 are also recommended to wear a medical mask.

The organization said for indoor public settings like shopping centres, religious buildings, restaurants, schools and public transport, masks should be worn if a physical distance can’t be maintained.

The WHO also says if a visitor comes to your home who is not a member of your household, a mask should be worn if you can’t maintain a safe physical distance, or if the ventilation in the room is not good.

The organization also said masks should be worn outside if a physical distance cannot be maintained.

“Some examples are busy markets, crowded streets and bus stops,” the website reads.

WHAT HAS CANADA SAID?

In Canada, masks or face coverings are mandatory in almost all public spaces.

The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) has issued its own guidance regarding mask wearing.

The agency said “non-medical masks, medical masks and respirators can all be used in the community.”

“A respirator worn in the community doesn’t need formal fit testing,” the website reads.

PHAC said masks should fit well, should be made of multiple layers of “breathable, tightly woven fabric such as cotton” and have an “effective middle filter layer,” like a non-woven polypropylene.

Using a filter as a middle layer in your non-medical mask can “help to trap some smaller infectious respiratory particles,” the PHAC website reads.

The agency said in general, non-medical masks can help prevent the spread of the virus, but medical and respirators provide “better protection.”

PHAC also outlines some situations where medical masks should be used.

The agency said anyone who tests positive for COVID-19, or who has symptoms of the virus should wear a medical mask.

Those caring for someone with COVID-19, and those living in an overcrowded setting with someone who has COVID-19 or symptoms of the virus, should also wear a medical mask.

Individuals who are at a risk of more severe disease or outcomes from COVID-19, and people who are at a higher risk because of their living situation should wear a medical mask as well.

PHAC adds, though, that “no matter which type of mask you choose, proper fit is a key factor in its effectiveness.”

The agency said a mask should be large enough to “completely and comfortably cover the nose, mouth and chin without gaps and not allow air to escape from the edges.”

It should also fit securely with ties, bands or ear loops, and be comfortable and should “not require frequent adjustments.”

The full list of PHAC mask guidelines can be found here