The World Health Organization (WHO) recently released interim guidance on the rational use of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) in the context of COVID-19.
This article summarizes the advice regarding use of medical masks in hospital and non-hospital settings.
Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) includes:
- Medical masks
- Respirators (N95, FFP2 or equivalent)
- Heavy-duty Gloves
- Eye protection
- Boots or closed work shoes
Health Care Workers:
The WHO guidance specifies activities and settings where PPE is/ is not recommended.
These include inpatient, outpatient, administrative areas in hospitals; and community settings. The guidance for Health Care Workers may be downloaded by clicking on the link. The pdf version of the map is available here.
Please note that the situations and settings requiring use of a medical mask are shown in bold.
This includes all hospital personnel not covered under ‘Health Care Workers’ above. Of these, the greatest requirement for PPEs is for cleaners (Housekeeping).
Generally, administrative staff, and other personnel not coming in direct contact with patients do not need to use a medical mask. The guidance for Non-Medical Personnel may be downloaded by clicking on the link. The pdf version of the map is available here.
In addition to individuals in hospitals (health care workers, non-medical personnel), the guidance document addresses the needs of patients (with/ without respiratory symptoms), caregivers at home, and visitors in hospital settings.
Generally, patients with respiratory symptoms must be offered a medical mask if they can tolerate the same.
Those without respiratory symptoms do not need to use a medical mask (or other PPE) when in public spaces or hospitals (unless they are visiting a COVID-19 patient).
Those providing direct care to COVID-19 patients at home, as well as those handling waste generated by such patients (stool, urine, other waste) need to use additional PPEs (medical mask alone is insufficient).
There are specific situations in which the WHO recommends the use of a medical mask. Many of those situations require the use of additional Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). The various individuals and situations in which medical mask needs to be used has been summarized in this map below. The pdf version of the map is available here. Wherever the WHO recommends the use of additional Personal Protective Equipment, the same has been indicated.
Note: The use of medical masks alone will not protect a person from COVID-19 unless she also
- uses additional Personal Protective Equipment where indicated
- follows social distancing guidance
- observes handwashing guidance
- obeys travel/ quarantine restrictions
The guidance is for the use of medical masks where indicated. Face masks not intended for medical use are not recommended as a substitute for medical masks.
Link to WHO document ‘Rational use of personal protective equipment for coronavirus disease (COVID-19)’ (19 March 2020):