Long after most nations urged their citizens to wear masks, and after months of hand-wringing about the quality of the evidence available, the World Health Organization on Friday endorsed the use of face masks by the public to reduce transmission of the coronavirus.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, surprisingly, the W.H.O. had refused to endorse masks. The announcement was long overdue, critics said, as masks are an easy and inexpensive preventive measure.
Even in its latest guidance, the W.H.O. made its reluctance abundantly clear, saying the usefulness of face masks is “not yet supported by high quality or direct scientific evidence,” but that governments should encourage mask wearing because of “a growing compendium of observational evidence.”
The W.H.O. also provided an exhaustive list of the potential disadvantages of wearing a mask, including “difficulty with communicating clearly” and “potential discomfort.”
A study funded by the W.H.O. concluded this week that