Q: "The WHO has said masks were useless!"

For reasons we do not fully understand (maybe in relation to the global shortage of masks, a circumstance frequently mentioned), the WHO does not recommend systematic use of face masks. Their arguments seem to us sometimes biased and lacking consistency. Make your own opinion based on a summary of their current position ( Advice on the use of masks in the context of COVID-19-Interim guidance-6 April 2020):

  • "(...) it is possible that people infected with COVID-19 could transmit the virus before symptoms develop". "In a small number of reports, pre-symptomatic transmission has been documented". "This is supported by data suggesting that some people can test positive for COVID-19 from 1-3 days before they develop symptoms."
  • "Studies (...) provide evidence that the use of a medical mask can prevent the spread of infectious droplets and potential contamination of the environment"
  • "(...) there is currently no evidence that wearing a mask (whether medical or other types) by healthy persons (...) can prevent them from infection". We disagree on this, as several studies - some mentioned on this website - confirm the efficiency of masks for the wearer, which is empirically confirmed by the magnitude of the difference of Covid-19 cases (and sadly deaths) between countries with and without masks. Specifically, we confirmed in notre analyse that the order of magnitude of the discrepancy can be explained by the use of masks.
  • "(...) potential advantages of the use of mask by healthy people in the community setting include reducing potential exposure risk from infected person during the “pre-symptomatic” period" with some "(...) potential risks : self-contamination, potential breathing difficulties, false sense of security, diversion of mask supplies and consequent shortage of mask for health care workers, diversion of resources from effective public health measures, such as hand hygiene(?)". We think these arguments can be countered by an effective communication on the good usage of masks, by promoting homemade masks in the short term and the development of production in the medium term.
  • About homemade masks: "The use of masks made of other materials (...) has not been well evaluated. There is no current evidence to make a recommendation for or against their use in [the commmunity] setting." Some studies on this topic are nevertheless available (see above)

Communication from the higher ranks at the WHO is somewhat ambiguous on this matter. Dr Mike Ryan, Executive Director of the WHO Health Emergency Programme said at a press conference on 30 March (quoted by @thehill) : "There is no specific evidence to suggest that the wearing of masks by the mass population has any particular benefit. In fact, there's some evidence to suggest the opposite..." then on 3 April (quoted by Bloomberg) : "The idea of using (...) respiratory coverings (...) in itself is not a bad idea".

Whereas many governments, elected representatives, community leaders, together with the CDC, the Academies of Medecine in France and Belgium now recommend the systematic wearing of masks in public places, we regret the WHO's position, whatever its motivation, and disappointing coming from a body whose proclaimed values are "putting people’s health interests first" and "fair, transparent and timely decisions".

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