The World Health Organization on April 20 said it recommends that people continue to wear face coverings in public even if there are no mandates in place, claiming that masks are “highly effective” at reducing transmission of COVID-19.
Dr. Ciro Ugarte, director of health emergencies at the WHO’s Pan American Health Organization, made the comments at a briefing with reporters and other WHO officials when asked about what indicators would lead to masks no longer being required.
“The use of masks is still recommended,” Ugarte said, claiming that masks have proven to be highly effective at reducing transmission of the virus when used properly and at the right time.
“This is a measure that still continues to be very relevant and also adds to other measures,” like social distancing and hand washing, he said. “So the recommendations still apply in all of the conditions … in any situation, the wearing of the mask is still advisable depending on the level of transmission.”
Ugarte also noted that there has been a reduction in the wearing of face masks in some countries along with a reduction in case detection which he said was “contradictory” and that they “need to go hand in hand.”
He added that the WHO advises that “the general public should wear a nonmedical mask indoors, or in outdoor settings where physical distancing of at least one meter cannot be maintained.”
The WHO official’s comments come after major U.S airlines and other travel companies dropped mask requirements on planes, trains, and other forms of public transportation after a federal judge ruled that the Biden administration’s mandate was unlawful.
U.S. District Judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle ruled on April 18 that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) exceeded its authority with the mask mandate and, inappropriately, did not seek public comment before imposing the order.
Mizelle noted that public comment, in this case, is necessary because the mandate would “constrain their choices and actions via threats and civil and criminal penalties.”
Prior to the ruling, the CDC—which issued the mandate in 2021—had extended the transportation mask mandate through May 3 ahead of its scheduled April 18 expiration.
However, the CDC said the order is no longer in effect due to Monday’s ruling, meaning passengers will no longer have to mask up before traveling.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters April 18 that the Biden administration will still recommend masks be worn on public transport and that officials are “still reviewing” the ruling.
The Justice Department announced on April 20 that it is appealing the ruling.
“Regarding travelers and travel by plane, we know that the use of masks has reduced dramatically the transmission during traveling,” Ugarte said on Wednesday. “So that type of recommendation should be taken into account when being applied to one country or another country.”