To wear or not to wear a mask: what the World Health Organization says

Wear a mask or not? All or only the infected? Is it a deciding factor or just a help? The debate over whether covering your mouth and nose helps contain the expansion of COVID-19 is very much on. Several countries have imposed its use, while the World Health Organization (WHO) is skeptical, to say the least.

(You may also be interested in: Coronavirus: WHO's advice to prevent contagion)

The Czech Republic and Slovakia are the only two countries in Europe that have imposed the mandatory use of face masks when leaving home. They are now joined by Austria with the obligation to use them in supermarkets, and Slovenia in any closed public space.


In these four countries, a scarf or article of clothing that covers the nose and mouth, and limits the expulsion of the virus by coughing or sneezing, is accepted as a substitute for face masks.

In Hungary the authorities advise against its use to those who are healthy because they believe that it generates a false sense of security, while acknowledging that there are not enough masks for the entire population, so it is not possible to impose its use.

The Bulgarian government has been the best example of the doubts and the debate about the masks: in just a few hours it went from imposing its use under penalty of fines of 2,500 euros, four times the average salary, to backing down because "there is no consensus in society".

What the WHO says

The WHO has tried to clarify the matter with a series of simple recommendations. Those who are sick should wear masks to avoid infecting others. Those who care for and treat the sick should also wear them to protect themselves from contagion.

At this point, it must be explained that not all masks are the same. On the one hand, there are those that simply cover the nose and mouth, such as those used by surgeons, and that can only limit the risk of infecting others, but do not protect one from contagion.

On the other hand, those that have a filtering system that, according to their protection threshold, are classified, from least to safest, as FFP1, FFP2 and FFP3. An FFP2 mask is usually enough to retain the droplets that an infected person generates when they cough, sneeze, or speak.

The WHO remembers that COVID-19 is not transmitted through the air: these droplets are too heavy to float, and they quickly fall to the ground. Infection can result from breathing the virus if you are within one meter of someone infected, or by touching a contaminated surface and then putting your hands to your face.


In summary, the WHO does not recommend the use of masks for the healthy population, but neither does it criticize the countries that recommend wearing it. Of course, remember that this garment is usually used in the wrong way, or it can give a false sense of security or make you forget the most effective measure: keep your distance and wash your hands.

"The use of masks in itself does not guarantee protection if it is not combined with other measures. The problem is that the people who use them may have a false sense of security and forget other essential gestures such as washing their hands," explained this week. WHO spokesman Tarik Jasarevic.

In addition, if the masks are not well placed on the face, the wearer may have a tendency to touch the face more frequently and it is known that the coronavirus enters the body through the mucous membranes of the eyes, nose and mouth.

For whom the masks are indispensable, it is for the health personnel who cannot carry out their work without the necessary protection material, but who in many countries are experiencing shortage problems due to the fact that the pandemic has caused the demand for these supplies to grow by exponential form.

"For this reason, people should not make face mask stocks at home," stressed the WHO spokesman.

Source: EFE