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NPHET recommends clearer advice that medical and respirator masks 'offer greater protection'

Respirator masks include FFP2 face masks.

Image: Shutterstock/Andrey_Popov

NPHET HAS RECOMMENDED clearer health guidance that a medical or respirator face mask offers greater protection against Covid-19 than a cloth mask. 

In the most recent letter from the Chief Medical Officer to the Health Minister send on 6 January, Dr Tony Holohan said some older people and vulnerable people may prefer to wear a respirator mask in crowded outdoor spaces and confined indoor spaces.

Current advice recommends that people in these cohorts wear a blue disposable medical face mask instead of a cloth face covering. 

Respirator masks include N95 and FFP2 masks which are generally white and fit closely around the mouth and nose. 

The NPHET letter says that, when worn properly, respirator masks “may provide a higher level of protection against inhaling virus that may be valuable for people at higher risk”. 

The letter also says that respirator and medical grade face masks must in the first instance be prioritised for healthcare workers.

And it further recommends guidance that expresses all types of masks, including cloth face coverings, can “significantly reduce” Covid transmission.

FFP2 masks are mandatory on public transport and in shops in several countries such as Austria. 

Speaking to Newstalk Breakfast, immunology professor at Maynooth University Paul Moynagh said there is evidence to show that “higher quality masks certainly work and work better than cloth masks”.

“I think they would help… I certainly think they would be better than cloth masks and face coverings,” he said.

Communicating the message

The letter from the CMO says the HSE should develop “targeted communications” to provide the appropriate information and clear messaging around face masks. 

The letter says that ideally a respirator or medical face mask should be worn by:

  • People who have Covid-19 
  • Those with Covid-19 symptoms
  • Household contacts of a confirmed Covid-19 case
  • Those visiting a healthcare setting or visiting people vulnerable to Covid-19 in any setting 

The letter also says the CMO will write to the National Immunisation Advisory Committee to seek views on the future likely requirements for Covid vaccination.

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At the time the letter was sent to minister Stephen Donnelly last week, the incidence of the disease in all age groups under 65 was at the highest recorded levels at any point in the pandemic. 

NPHET recommended that no additional Covid measures were necessary at this time and that current measures should be maintained until 30 January. 

The HSE website currently says that cloth face masks are what “most people should wear in places where a face mask is required”. 

It says people who are at higher risk from Covid-19, such as the over 70s and people with an underlying condition, should wear a medical face mask. 

The HSE site says that visors and face shields, which are sometimes accepted in place of a face covering, are “not the best option for protecting yourself and others from Covid-19″. 

The HSE also advises against wearing face masks that have a valve or a vent because people could “breathe in or breathe out the virus through the valve or vent”. 

The Department of Health and HSE have been contacted for comment. 

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