As research on COVID-19 and its transmission has accumulated, more stringent guidelines around mask-wearing have come to the fore. The impact of masks on preventing COVID-19 infection was initially debated, but the data show that masks are likely effective in preventing droplets containing the virus from entering our respiratory systems. What does this mean for healthcare workers?
With healthcare workers on the frontlines, caring for COVID-19 patients, many people have worried that these vital members of the medical community will suffer due to a lack of sufficient personal protective equipment (PPE). Luckily, the evidence is pointing to masks as a successful preventative measure that can keep healthcare workers from getting sick with COVID-19.
This new research, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), has demonstrated how mask wearing has been associated with reduced numbers of COVID-19 infections amongst healthcare workers in the Boston area. The data come from 12 hospitals that reported COVID-19 test results and mask wearing behavior of around 10,000 healthcare workers.
Before mask-wearing became mandatory across these hospitals, positive COVID-19 test rates drastically increased from 0% to over 21%. However, once mask-wearing was universally implemented across these hospitals in late March, the rate of positive tests decreased.
According to the authors of the new research letter, this new evidence highlights the value of masks both in and outside of hospitals for preventing the spread of COVID-19, particularly in places where people cannot adequately engage in social distancing. However, given that one of the barriers for mask wearing appears to be that masks can be uncomfortable – especially when worn for long periods of time – experts are also calling on innovators to help identify ways to make masks more wearable so that people are more willing to wear them.
While healthcare workers are critical for helping those affected by the pandemic, healthcare workers themselves are also susceptible to this virus. More research into the influence of specific measures against COVID-19 should help us better understand how we can protect our healthcare community while treating those afflicted with COVID-19.
Brooks, J.T., Butler, J.C. & Redfield, R.R. (2020). Universal masking to prevent SARS-CoV-2 transmission – The time is now. JAMA, doi:10.1001/jama.2020.13107