Close contact mask protocol

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This protocol is a draft. It has not yet been accepted as protocol and may be incorrect or poorly cited. Please do not use this in your work until it has been accepted.

Please see #protocols on Slack to discuss this protocol further.

This page describes protocol for using PPE. Please read the PPE principles and remember that appropriate PPE, not simply the most PPE is the correct solution. PPE is not a magical talisman or substitute for good practice and a scene survey
Note regarding COVID: This page is not specifically relating to the COVID-19 pandemic pandemic, but includes information that will be useful for dealing with the pandemic.

This is the protocol for using masks when you must be in close contact (within 2m) with either:

  • Someone who has (or is suspected to have) an infection that is spread through droplets, or
  • Someone who is vulnerable to such an infection that is currently widespread (such as COVID-19)

For such situations, surgical masks should be used if available, but cloth can be used if there is no alternative. (See covid mask protocol for information on cloth masks.)

This protocol only covers situations where such close contact need only happen for a limited period of time. For situations where extended close contact is unavoidable, see high risk mask protocol.

When using masks, it is essential to remember the following principles:

  • Masks are an addition to other infection control measures (hand hygiene, use of tissues, not touching the face), not a substitute.
  • Maintain distancing whenever possible - use masks for additional protection and in situations where this is impossible, not as an excuse to ignore distancing principles.

About Surgical Masks

Surgical masks:

  • Are designed to prevent the wearer from infecting others
  • Give the wearer some protection from infection
  • Have a loose fit that means they don’t provide complete protection

While UK supplies are so limited, we recommend that surgical masks should be prioritised for contact with a person who has symptoms, and cloth used in most other circumstances. This is because symptomatic people are likely to produce a larger number of infectious droplets (e.g. while coughing), and these droplets may travel longer distances and remain in the air for longer when expelled by coughs or sneezes [1][2]. Since surgical masks offer better protection than cloth, they should be prioritised for higher-risk situations.

How to wear a surgical mask

Putting on a mask

  1. Wash your hands first.
  2. Check there are no defects, such as holes or tears.
  3. Make sure the mask is the right way round:
    • The coloured side faces outwards
    • The metallic strip is at the top, over your nose
  4. Put on the mask before putting on gloves.
    • If there are loops at the sides, these will go over your ears.
    • If there are straps, these will need to be tied behind your head. Place the mask with the upper ties first, behind your head, then tie the lower ties behind your neck.
  5. Press the metallic strip with your fingertips to mould it into shape over the bridge of your nose.
  6. Make sure the mask is secure, with a tight seal around your nose, and covers your mouth, nose and chin.
  7. Wash your hands again before putting on your gloves.

Wearing a mask

  • The mask must cover your nose and mouth.
  • Don’t touch your face, or touch the face of the mask while wearing it. If you do, sanitise or wash your hands before touching your surroundings.
  • Don’t take it off when talking, using the phone etc.
  • Wear for as short a time as possible - put it on immediately before entering the situation. Moisture spreading from your mouth will decrease the effectiveness.

Taking off a mask

  1. Take off your gloves first, to avoid transferring virus from your hands to your face.
  2. Wash your hands
  3. Remove the mask by unfastening the ties/unhooking the ear loops, without touching the face of the mask
  4. Place in a sealed bag until it can be safely disposed of.

Sterilising masks

  • Surgical masks should be single-use, but in the current severe supply shortage, clean undamaged masks can be set aside in a breathable paper bag for 72 hours before reuse.
Don’t use a plastic bag, as this may prevent them from drying.
Never share masks.
  • Never use bleach to clean masks.
  1. How far droplets can move in indoor environments – revisiting the Wells evaporation–falling curve; Accessed: 2020-04-23
  2. Violent expiratory events: on coughing and sneezing; Accessed: 2020-04-23