Photo credit: Me, with only partial PPE
If you're anything like me, your head is spinning with all of these mask recommendations. In the past few months everything we do has changed so drastically it's hard to know what's true or correct anymore. In an effort to cut through some of that, I put together quick summary of what masks we use, when, and why. Hopefully this will give you a better understand if why most of us are only visible from the eyes up these days.
The “It’s not me, it's you” Masks
When you're around patients, the best mask to keep you safe is a N95. This is what the CDC recommends when supplies are ample, and is more than what the WHO recommends. Having this mask on during general patient care enables you to feel protected when the patient's condition changes in an emergency and you need to switch to an aerosol generating procedure during care.
The caveat here is that this is what is recommended when supplies are ample. That is not the case right now, so that is why this is not recommended in all places for all patient encounters. Following your local protocols and policies is important here because they will take into account this balance of what protection is needed by who and (hopefully) based upon the best available evidence and expert opinion, along with supply levels, PPE use rate, and reliability of getting replacement supplies (not all agencies can just ask the Pats to go pick up PPE for them…).
What should we be doing in the station?
Yes, we could try to increase testing to see who is an asymptomatic carrier and who is not, but everything has limitations. So it is very likely that an unknown percentage of people will test negative, never have symptoms, and still be able to pass the virus around. No, a mask will not protect all people in all circumstances, but it is the cheapest, simplest, and best thing we can do to keep our workforce healthy right now.
3M Mask Types: https://web.archive.org/web/20200304133722/https://multimedia.3m.com/mws/media/1798135O/possible-alternatives-to-surgical-n95-respirators-in-the-us-healthcare-technical-bulletin.pdf
Comparison of N95 type masks from outside the US: https://multimedia.3m.com/mws/media/1791500O/comparison-ffp2-kn95-n95-filtering-facepiece-respirator-classes-tb.pdf
More on EMS and Social Distancing: https://covid.brownemsdivision.org/2020/04/why-do-we-frontlinehealthcare-providers.html