Socialist Worker

Study confirms health workers’ fears about low-grade masks

Issue No. 2762

There is a far greater chance of workers who wear standard-issue surgical masks catching the virus.

There is a far greater chance of workers who wear standard-issue surgical masks catching the virus. (Pic: nursetogether.com/Wikipedia)


A new study of health workers shows that wearing a high grade FFP3 mask can provide up to 100 percent protection against Covid-19.

And there is a far greater chance of workers who wear standard-issue surgical masks catching the virus.

Professional bodies, including the doctors’ BMA and the College of Paramedics, have long appealed for Public Health England’s (PHE) guidance on masks to be changed. That demand has also been taken up by health unions.

They point to the way FFP3 masks have a close fit and are specifically designed to filter out aerosols. Airborne particles are the most common way the virus is transmitted.

But PHE insists that surgical masks are sufficient in most cases—and that FFP3 should only be used in procedures where there is a danger “infection aerosol transmission”. That would include workers who are intubating a patient to take over their breathing.

But it would not cover paramedics sat in the back of an ambulance with a Covid-19 patient waiting hours before being able to admit them into hospital.

Many suspect the cost and availability of FFP3 masks has driven PHE’s guidance.

The study shows workers caring for Covid-19 patients on “red” wards faced a risk up to 47 times higher than those on non-coronavirus “green” wards.

Decisions 

During the second wave of the pandemic, which began last December, managers in Cambridge made a local decision to upgrade mask protection on red wards to FFP3.

In the weeks following this move the rate of infections among health workers on red wards dropped dramatically. It soon fell to the level experienced by workers on green wards, where there were no Covid-19 patients.

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A worker for the London Ambulance service told Socialist Worker that the new report backs up what unions have been saying for months.

“We’ve been trying to tell our bosses that we should be using FFP3 masks instead of surgical or FFP2 masks for months now,” they said.

“The danger isn’t just to us. What about the sick and vulnerable people that go and see? If we are at greater risk of getting sick, there’s obviously a grave danger that we could pass it on to them.

“If the public health bodies can’t get to grips with that, our service should decide to do what’s right anyway.

“We should always have the best possible protection for the job.”

Unions should now pile pressure on the new health secretary Sajid Javid to get the guidelines changed. 


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