WHO advises continuous mask-wearing in certain clinical areas

WHO latest advice on targeted continuous medical masking for health workers in clinical areas

Healthcare staff working in clinical areas where patients are present should continuously wear a medical mask, advises the WHO, in areas of known or suspected sporadic severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) transmission.

This is known as targeted continuous medical masking for health workers in clinical areas. Latest key advice from the World Health Organization (WHO) issued yesterday (December 1) advises the use of masks as part of a comprehensive package of prevention and control measures to limit the spread of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19.

In healthcare settings, the WHO continues to recommend that health workers providing care to suspected or confirmed Covid-19 patients, wear named types of mask/respirator in addition to other personal protective equipment that are part of standard, droplet and contact precautions. The mask types cited are: medical mask in the absence of aerosol-generating procedures (AGPs); respirator, N95 or FFP2 or FFP3 standards, or equivalent in care settings for Covid-19 patients where AGPs are performed. These may be used by health workers when providing care to Covid-19 patients in other settings if they are widely available and if cost is not an issue.

In areas of known or suspected community or cluster SARS-CoV-2 transmission, the WHO advises universal masking for all persons including staff, patients, visitors, service providers and others within the health facility. This advice covers primary, secondary and tertiary care levels; outpatient care; and long-term care facilities.

Key advice for healthcare staff is the wearing of masks by inpatients when physical distancing of at least one metre cannot be maintained or when patients are outside of their care areas.

Exhalation valves on respirators are discouraged in the WHO advice as they bypass the filtration function for exhaled air by the wearer.

The advice underlines that a mask alone, even when it is used correctly, is insufficient to provide adequate protection or source control.

Other infection prevention and control (IPC) measures include hand hygiene, physical distancing of at least one metre, avoidance of touching one’s face, respiratory etiquette, adequate ventilation in indoor settings, testing, contact tracing, quarantine, and isolation. Together these measures are critical to prevent human-to-human transmission of SARS-CoV-2.

Depending on the type, masks can be used either for protection of healthy persons or to prevent onward transmission — source control.

The WHO continues to advise that anyone suspected or confirmed of having Covid-19 or awaiting viral laboratory test results should wear a medical mask when in the presence of others, but this does not apply to those awaiting a test prior to travel.

For any mask type, appropriate use, storage and cleaning or disposal are essential to ensure that they were as effective as possible and to avoid an increased transmission risk, adds the WHO.

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