Advice on coronavirus masks endanger US health workers, experts say | US news


With insufficient critical protective gear, federal authorities say health workers can wear substandard surgical masks while treating Covid-19 patients – but mounting evidence suggests that practice workers in danger.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently stated that surgical masks are “an acceptable alternative” to highly protective N95 respirators, unless workers perform intubations or other procedures on patients with Covid-19 who could release large volumes of viral particles.

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But researchers, nonprofit leaders, and former regulators in the specialized field of workplace safety say that the use of surgical masks – which are considerably less protective than N95 respirators – almost certainly fuels disease among workers. front-line health care, which probably accounts for approximately 11% of all known cases of Covid-19.

“There is no doubt in my mind that this is one of the reasons why so many health professionals get sick and so many die,” said Jonathan Rosen, a health and safety expert who advises unions, states and the federal government. As of April 23, more than 21,800 healthcare workers have contracted the coronavirus and 71 have died, according to a staff member of the House’s education and labor committee, who was briefed by the CDC.

The allocation for surgical masks made more sense when scientists originally thought the virus was spread by large droplets. But a growing body of research shows that it spreads through tiny viral particles that can persist in the air for up to 16 hours.

A properly fitted N95 respirator will prevent 95% of the tiny air particles – up to 0.3 microns in diameter, which are the hardest to capture – from reaching the wearer’s face. But surgical masks, designed to protect patients from a surgeon’s respiratory droplets, are not effective in blocking particles smaller than 100 microns, according to mask manufacturer 3M. A Covid-19 particle is less than 0.1 micron, according to South Korean researchers, and can pass through a surgical mask.

A woman wears an N95 respirator in Indiana on April 22.

A woman wears an N95 respirator in Indiana on April 22. Photography: Jeremy Hogan / SOPA Images / REX / Shutterstock

The CDC’s recent advice on surgical masks contrasts with another CDC web page which says that surgical masks “DO NOT provide the wearer with a reliable level of protection against inhalation of smaller airborne particles and do not are not considered respiratory protection ”.

Research into other countries hard hit by the virus confirms the concern. A report released earlier this month, examined data from two hospitals in South Korea and found that surgical masks “appear to be ineffective in preventing the spread” of coronavirus particles. 2013 Chinese study found that twice as many health workers, 17%, contracted respiratory disease if they only wore a surgical mask when treating sick patients, compared to 7% who used N95 continuously, according to a study by the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine.

However, many healthcare facilities, citing CDC guidelines and the limited supply, provide N95 in limited medical settings.

Earlier this month, the National Teamsters Union reported that 64% of its health care worker members – which include people working in nursing homes, hospitals and other medical facilities – could not get N95 masks.

In Michigan Medicine, one of the state’s largest hospitals, employees do not receive N95 except to perform specific procedures on Covid-positive patients – such as intubation – or to treat them at the ICU said Katie Scott, a registered nurse at the hospital and vice president of the Michigan Nurses Association. Employees who otherwise treat Covid-19 patients are given surgical masks.

That fits the CDC protocol, but leaves nurses like Scott – who has read research on surgical masks versus N95 – feeling exposed.

“We run the risk of contracting this virus and we risk bringing it home to our families,” said Scott.

At Michigan Medicine, employees are not allowed to bring their own protective equipment, according to a complaint filed by the nurses’ union with the Michigan Occupational Safety and Hazard Administration. Scott said his friends and family mailed his personal protective equipment (PPE), including the N95 masks. He stays at home while she takes care of the patients.

“Think I’m going to work and leave this mask at home on my kitchen table, because the employer won’t let me wear it,” said Scott. “You sort of feel sacrificial. “

Reports from Kentucky, Florida and California have documented nurses facing retaliation or pressure to withdraw when they brought their own N95 respirators.

A Michigan Medicine spokesperson declined to answer questions about the hospital’s protective equipment protocols.

In New York, the center of the epidemic in the United States, state nurses say they received surgical masks, not N95s, to wear when treating Covid-19 patients, according to an affidavit filed by Lisa Baum, senior health and safety representative for the New York State Nurses Association (NYSNA).

So far, at least 16 NYSNA members have died from the coronavirus and more than 1,000 have tested positive, according to union estimates.

National Nurses United pushed Washington lawmakers to pass legislation that would boost N95 production by forcing the White House to invoke the Defense Production Act, a Korean War law that allows the federal government, in the event of an emergency, to run private companies in the production and distribution of goods.

He also asks Congress to demand that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (Osha) present a temporary emergency standard to compel employers to provide health workers with protective equipment, including N95 masks, when they interact with patients suspected of having Covid-19. .

“Nurses are not afraid to take care of our patients if we have the right protections,” said Bonnie Castillo, executive director of National Nurses United, “but we are not martyrs sacrificing our lives because our government and our employers have not. their work. “


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