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VERIFY: No, the World Health Organization didn't recommend not wearing a mask

Online claims say the WHO changed it's recommendation on masks. That's false. Here's what they actually said.

ATLANTA — As we get more research on COVID-19, it's true the guidance over wearing masks has also evolved since the start of the pandemic.

But for months now, health experts around the world have been in agreement that wearing masks can help stop the spread of the virus.

So, why are some online claiming that advice has changed?

THE QUESTION

Did the World Health Organization (WHO) change its guidance and say you do NOT need to wear a mask?

THE ANSWER

That’s FALSE. The latest December guidance from the WHO, in fact, reaffirms the use of masks as part of a "comprehensive package of prevention and control measures" to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

WHAT WE FOUND

Posts on social media are now circulating, suggesting the WHO is now saying people “do NOT need to wear a mask.” The VERIFY team traced such posts back to a Jan. 25 blog, the original version citing a "telling admission made on January 22" with a link to a World Health Organization press conference.

The VERIFY team reviewed the entire news conference. Experts did indeed address questions regarding the effectiveness of masks in preventing spread of the new variants as well as questions as to whether WHO will revise its mask guidelines.

RELATED: VERIFY: Double-masking is logical, but lack of data makes added safety unclear

"We are seeing that the interventions that are in place are working, but I should say with the use of masks, masks are one aspect of control, one aspect of reducing the spread of this virus and they can't be used alone,” Maria Van Kerkhove, epidemiologist and COVID-19 Technical Lead at WHO, said. “We need to emphasize that, because not one solution is enough. Not masks alone, not physical distancing, not hand hygiene; you've heard us say that quite a lot.”

While reviewing the press conference, the VERIFY team found no guidance from experts indicating you do not need to wear a mask.

However, a more recent version of the blog post additionally included a line from the WHO, saying “the use of a mask alone, even when correctly used, is insufficient to provide an adequate level of protection.”

It’s true that this line as referenced in the blog is verbatim from the December guidelines, but it’s missing context.

When read in full, the paragraph reiterates that the WHO advises using masks as part of a "comprehensive package of prevention and control measures that can limit the spread of certain respiratory viral diseases, including COVID-19.”

According to the December guidelines, “masks can be used for protection of healthy persons (worn to protect oneself when in contact with an infected individual) or for source control (worn by an infected individual to prevent onward transmission) or both,” in addition to other prevention measures such as social distancing, hand washing and testing.

In fact, since June experts from the World Health Organization have advised everyone to wear masks in areas where the virus is spreading or in places you can't maintain social distancing.

As a result, social media posts suggesting WHO has changed its recent mask guidelines, suggesting you do not need to wear a mask are FALSE.

In fact, across its social media channels, WHO continues to emphasize the benefits of masking up.

11Alive reached out to the blogger who authored the original post. He directed us to his response here.

11Alive's VERIFY team is here to fact-check claims being shared in the community and online. Fill out the form below with something you'd like us to Verify.