While the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends wearing a mask if you’re interacting with a COVID-19 patient or someone suspected of having the virus, some staff at the Mayaro District Health Facility (MDHF) are concerned about being issued dust and surgical masks.
Masks work by capturing droplets that are released when a person coughs, sneezes and breathes, which is how the COVID-19 can be transmitted. A surgical mask is recommended for health care providers to prevent them from inhaling particles.
However, the N-95 respirator is recommended for COVID-19 care as it reduces the wearer’s exposure to airborne particles even more. According to the US Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, it is tight-fitting and can filter out at least 95 per cent of air particles from large to aerosol droplets.
But some staff the MDHF said management is putting their lives at risk by giving them dust masks to wear.
They explained that when people show up with coughs and colds, they are asked to go to a triage area where a doctor or nurse will screen them to determine whether they fit the criteria for COVID-19. The doctor would be required to wear a regular surgical mask. But other staff, including those who clean the isolated areas and who provide support, are given dust masks to wear. Their concerns increased as reports circulated that WHO was reviewing evidence that COVID-19 can be airborne and that it was considering new precautions for medical staff.
“They have proper masks in stock and are keeping it until things get more serious. The staff is putting themselves at risk and they have families to go home to. People who have to clean the isolated area are doing so with dust masks. All staff who are working in the facility are not getting the proper masks. All healthcare workers at the Sangre Grande Hospital who may be exposed are given green scrubs and N-95 masks, but some staff in Mayaro have to provide their own and have to walk with a change of clothes. We are under the Eastern Regional Health Authority (ERHA) and there are different rules,” a staff member said.
Although N-95 respirators are for those directly involved in handling COVID-19 patients, staff said there has been a steady flow of people seeking help for respiratory ailments. Many are coughing and sneezing but unless tests are done, no one knows who has contracted COVID-19.
ERHA CEO Ronald Tsoi-A-Fatt told Guardian Media that the issuance of protective gear is done using WHO guidelines, therefore not every member of staff is required to wear N-95 respirators. Tsoi-A-Fatt said if something was wrong, he did not understand why the staff did not speak to the management.
However, the staff at the MDHF said their concerns were ignored. Tsoi-A-Fatt said he will look into the concerns to ensure there is no deviation from ERHA policy.