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24 July


WHO says masks shouldn’t be worn during "intense physical activity"

Virus prevention measures, like distancing and ventilation, need to be in place in indoor exercise venues

Photo: Whidbey News-Times

/NOVOSTIVL/ Masks should not be worn during “vigorous intensity physical activity”, according to controversial guidance by the World Health Organization.

The advice issued Tuesday doesn't appear to be entirely new for the organisation, though it surprised experts.

The WHO said the updated guidelines, which include tightened mask-wearing advice in situations other than exercise, are based on the latest research, though more is needed. Masks, it reiterated, aren't a silver bullet but need to be used as a part of a comprehensive plan to defeat the novel coronavirus.

There's not a lot of research on the pros and cons of wearing masks during exercise. But the WHO pointed out that some studies have shown wearing them during mild to moderate physical activity can lead to significant negative cardiovascular and pulmonary effects in both healthy people and those with underlying respiratory diseases.

People who wear respirators while exercising, as well as those who have diseases like asthma and COPD and wear any mask while working out, seem to fare worst.

As such, WHO said “people should not wear masks during vigorous intensity physical activity because masks may reduce the ability to breathe comfortably”.

On the “mythbusters” section of its website, the organisation adds “sweat can make the mask become wet more quickly which makes it difficult to breathe and promotes the growth of microorganisms”.

The organisation says in the new report that good ventilation and physical distancing of at least metre during workouts is paramount. If gyms can't guarantee distancing, ventilation, and proper disinfection, they should consider closing temporarily, the WHO said.

In non-exercise situations, the WHO tightened its stance on masks.

In health care settings in areas with community transmission, everyone should wear them, including outpatients and visitors, the WHO said. Inpatients should wear them when leaving their area or when physical distance can't be maintained.

The organisation still recommends that health care workers caring for Covid-19 patients wear N95-type masks when performing procedures that could generate aerosols. They should wear medical masks otherwise.

In places with “known or sporadic” transmission, health care workers should wear medical masks when patients are present, the WHO said. The organisation also said health care workers shouldn't wear respirators with valves, since those allow exhaled air to bypass the filtration system.

The WHO said the General public should also wear non-medical masks both inside public places and outside when physical distancing isn't possible. Even if it is possible indoors, masks should be worn unless there's sufficient ventilation.

If you're having visitors, WHO said wear a mask if you can't maintain distance or ensure good ventilation.

WHO also recommended people at higher risk for serious Covid-19 complications, like those over 60 and those with conditions like heart disease, chronic lung disease, or cancer, wear medical masks when they can't maintain physical distance. Carers or housemates of suspected or confirmed Covid-19 should also wear medical masks when in the same room.