Health Expert: Conflicting Guidance On Face Masks Confusing To Public

World Health Organization Recommends Racial Justice Protesters Wear Masks

Demonstrators protest, Saturday, June 6, 2020, near the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington
Demonstrators protest, Saturday, June 6, 2020, near the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, over the death of George Floyd, a black man who was in police custody in Minneapolis. Floyd died after being restrained by Minneapolis police officers. Andrew Harnik/AP Photo

The World Health Organization (WHO) is weighing in on global protests against racial injustice, sparked by the death of a black man, George Floyd, at the hands of a white police officer in Minneapolis.

The agency is asking protestors to wear cloth masks, even though the organization says non-medical masks can provide a false sense of security against COVID-19, a disease that has killed more than 400,000 people worldwide and more than 600 in Wisconsin.

“We reject discrimination of all kinds,” said WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus during a virtual press conference Monday. “We encourage all those protesting around the world to do so safely.”

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In April, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention changed its stance and began recommending people wear masks in public to try to slow the spread of COVID-19 by those without symptoms. More people began doing so in Wisconsin and other states. Some communities require it. Wisconsin does not, although some businesses do.

Monday’s guidance from the WHO isn’t new. “But it does confuse things for the public,” said Dr. Nasia Safdar, medical director for infection control at UW Hospital and Clinics. “I think a simpler message is always best. And we have gone back and forth on the masking issue in the last few months. Should you wear them? Should you not wear them in public? And what should the strength of that messaging be?”

Cloth facial coverings in and of themselves won’t protect people from contracting the coronavirus, experts say. They’re meant to be used along with social distancing, hand washing and staying home when sick.

“You should launder it frequently. There’s no hard and fast recommendation on how often. And you cough or sneeze, you should launder it right away or even discard it,” said Dr. Safdar.

She and other health officials have noted many people are using masks in a way that provides little protection. Worn correctly, both the nose and mouth should be covered. Once the mask is on, avoid touching it so it doesn’t become contaminated from surfaces you may have contacted.

The World Health Organization does not recommend wearing gloves to avoid COVID-19. In fact, it says gloves may increase the risk of infection.

Since the pandemic began, health officials have been telling people to stay at least 6 feet apart. But that’s getting harder to do as states open back up, the weather gets nicer and protests continue.

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