Victorian paramedics have reportedly been issued with vented masks that have limited efficacy against the spread of COVID-19.
The masks used in some instances are N95 masks, which contain filters to protect the wearer against environmental risks such as dust or virus-carrying airborne droplets. However, the masks are only effective one-way, protecting the user against external risks but do not offer any efficacy if the wearer is already unwell, and can allow them to spread bacteria.
The masks were apparently approved by Victoria’s Department of Health and Human Services, who also advised locals to not use face coverings with a valve.
Emergency doctor Carl Le who spoke to The Age, explained that he had recently encountered a number of paramedics attending hospitals with the vented masks.
“I’m sort of dumbfounded by what I’m seeing,” he said. “There is a risk of cross-contamination.”
When he raised the issue with the paramedics, “they just said, ‘This is what we’re supplied with’.”
On Wednesday last week, an Ambulance Victoria spokesman explained that “the N95 vented masks are manufactured to Australian standards and provide high levels of protection. They were approved by the Department of Health and Human Services as part of pandemic planning.”
“However, the guidelines around masks continue to evolve as new evidence emerges, so out of an abundance of caution, Ambulance Victoria is transitioning to non-vented N95 masks, with deliveries of stock taking place from today.”
The president of the Victorian branch of the Australian Medical Association, Julian Rait, commented that the situation was “bizarre” and “another example of inconsistent advice” from the DHHS.
On Saturday, Professor Brett Sutton, Victoria’s Chief Medical Officer explained that “[a mask with a valve] allows the wearer to breathe out more easily and stops moisture build-up, but the problem is that it allows you to breathe out virus if you’re infected,” he wrote on Twitter.
“So although it might protect you, it won’t properly protect others if you are infected. So please, no valves on masks for COVID-19.”
The health advice remains that N95 is an appropriate level of protection for those in industries with a risk of airborne contaminants or dust, but must be fitted correctly and workers must be trained in the correct fitting of relevant workplace PPE.