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When should health workers wear masks in the context of COVID-19?

Release time: 2021-02-20

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When should health workers wear masks in the context of COVID-19?

Health workers are the most likely to be exposed to COVID-19 because they are in close contact with patients with suspected, probable or confirmed COVID-19.

In areas of community or cluster transmission, health workers, caregivers and visitors should wear a mask at all times when in the health facility, even if physical distancing can be maintained. Masks should be worn throughout their shifts, apart from when eating, drinking or needing to change the mask for specific reasons:

· Health workers and caregivers include: doctors, nurses, midwives, medical attendants, cleaners, community health workers, and any others working in clinical areas.

· Health workers must remember to combine hand hygiene with any time they touch their mask or face, before and after putting on and removing their masks, as well as before they touch them to readjust them.


KN95-KM1095 Face Mask

In areas with sporadic spread of COVID-19, health workers in clinical areas should wear medical masks throughout their shift apart from when eating, drinking or needing to change the mask for specific reasons.

Health workers should continue to physically distance and avoid unnecessary close contact with colleagues and others in the facility when not providing patient care.

Respirator masks are recommended for use where aerosol generating procedures are in place for a suspect/confirmed COVID-19 patient. In these settings, WHO recommends the use of airborne and contact precautions.

KN95-KM1095 Face Mask

As health workers have been infected with COVID-19 outside of health facilities, it is critical that health workers, as all people, follow the guidance to protect themselves from infection when outside of a health facility.

WHO first issued interim guidance on recommended practices for health workers caring for suspected or confirmed COVID-19 patients in January 2020, which included following droplet/contact precautions: surgical gown, gloves, medical mask, and eye protection.

Does WHO recommend the use of masks with exhalation valves to prevent transmission of COVID-1 9?

No, WHO does not advise using masks or respirators with exhalation valves. These masks are intended for industrial workers to prevent dust and particles from being breathed in as the valve closes on inhale. However, the valve opens on exhale, making it easier to breathe but also allowing any virus to pass through the valve opening. This makes the mask ineffective at preventing the spread of COVID-19 or any other respiratory virus.

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