Regional officials from the World Health Organization on Wednesday encouraged everyone to continue wearing face masks in public to reduce the transmission of the coronavirus, even if local authorities no longer mandate their use.
“The use of masks is still recommended,” says Dr. Ciro Ugarte, director of health emergencies at the Pan American Health Organization, WHO’s regional arm for the Western Hemisphere.
Masks have been proven to be very effective at reducing transmission of the virus when used properly, said Dr. Ugarte in a conference call with reporters and other WHO officials.
“It is a measure that is still very relevant and complementary to other measures,” such as social distancing, hand washing and good indoor ventilation, he said. “Our general advice is that the general public should wear a non-medical mask indoors, or in outdoor environments where physical distance of at least one meter cannot be maintained.”
A number of countries have recently dropped mask requirements, including the United States, where a federal public transit mask mandate was dropped by a judge on Monday, although the Biden administration is appealing.
“In terms of travelers and air travel, we know that using masks has drastically reduced transmission while traveling,” said Dr. Ugarte when asked about the ruling that invalidated the mandate in the United States. He expressed concern that people could be stigmatized for choosing to wear masks when they are no longer needed.
Wearing masks should only be made voluntary in countries where there is virtually no community transmission, and only if accompanied by more testing and vaccination, he said.
“We have seen that in some countries the use of masks has been reduced to voluntary levels, and at the same time they have reduced the detection of cases,” said Dr. ugarte. “We shouldn’t be on our guard.”
While many countries in America have achieved fairly high vaccination rates, some are lagging far behind, PAHO officials said. dr. Carissa Etienne, director of the agency, noted that Haiti, Jamaica, Guatemala and Paraguay, among others, had yet to vaccinate half of their populations, as the virus continued to take a deadly toll.
“In some countries, Covid has become the No. 1 cause of maternal deaths,” said Dr. Etienne. “These deaths are avoidable.”
Elsewhere in the world:
WHO Eastern Mediterranean officials, which includes more than 20 countries in North Africa, the Middle East and Southwest Asia, said Wednesday that vaccination coverage in the region was too low, with only about 40 percent of people fully vaccinated. While the number of new cases and coronavirus-related deaths have declined, transmission remains high, making it risky to cut back on testing and surveillance, as some countries in the region have done, said Ahmed Al-Mandhari, the regional director of the United Nations. WHO, at a news conference. The Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca in the summer and the FIFA World Cup tournament in Qatar in the winter will bring huge crowds of visitors to the region, and “of course, when you bring a large number of people together, you worry about increased transmission of the disease.” ” said Richard Brennan, the director of the WHO region for health emergencies.
Emma Bubola reporting contributed.
SOURCE – www.nytimes.com