SINT MAARTEN/CARIBBEAN (PAHO/WHO) — The use of face masks during outbreaks of viral illnesses such as the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) has only been shown in scientific studies to be effective for protecting healthcare workers and to reduce the risk of sick patients spreading the disease.
Based on that evidence, the Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization (PAHO/WHO) recommends the use of face masks by:
Wearing a face mask alone is not guaranteed to stop infections in any of these circumstances and should be combined with other personal protective measures, such as hand hygiene, keeping your distance from people with symptoms, and respiratory hygiene (or cough etiquette).
“No preventive measure is 100% effective in preventing infection but practiced together they can reduce the chances of spreading infection”.
PAHO Deputy Director Jarbas Barbosa
Recommendations for the general public
Studies have shown no clear benefit from face mask use for people who are not sick. Some research shows that people can become infected from touching a contaminated mask they have been wearing or by removing it incorrectly.
During an outbreak such as COVID-19, the following measures may help people to reduce their chances of becoming infected:
If you do have symptoms such as coughing, sneezing or having difficulty breathing, the recommendations are:
“This is a new virus,” said Barbosa referring to COVID-19, “so we are still gathering information about it. But the evidence already available is showing that it is similar enough to other viruses that we are fairly confident these recommendations are good advice for reducing the chances of infection.”