The Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA) has today published its review of international guidance on the use of face masks to mitigate the spread of SARS-CoV-2 infection. This review was completed at the request of the Department of Health and will inform the work of the COVID-19 Advisory Group.
During the peak of the pandemic, many countries recommended the use of face masks to limit the transmission of COVID-19.
In Ireland, the mandatory requirement to wear face masks was removed on 28 February 2022. The public health advice remains that face masks should continue to be worn on public transport and in healthcare settings.
HIQA reviewed the international guidance on the use of face masks to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. The review included guidance from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), the World Health Organization (WHO), the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and 22 countries. The guidance typically provides general recommendations on the use of face masks, but also provides specific recommendations for situations in which the risk of transmission is higher, as well as specific recommendations for individuals at higher risk of severe COVID-19 outcomes.
The ECDC and WHO advise that, to lower community transmission, wearing a face mask should be considered in indoor public spaces, or crowded outdoor settings where physical distancing cannot be maintained.
The ECDC recommends that those who test positive, or show symptoms of COVID-19, and their household members, should consider wearing medical face masks or respirators in the household to limit the spread of COVID-19.
Most countries, including Ireland, recommend the use of face masks on public transport; however, HIQA found that this is a mandatory requirement in Germany, Singapore and Spain. Within health and social care settings, countries commonly either mandate or recommend the use of face masks when visiting, attending an appointment or being admitted.
The use of face masks is generally recommended for those at higher risk of severe COVID-19 outcomes. Guidance from three countries (France, Ireland and Norway) specifies that this recommendation applies to situations when the individual is in crowded spaces (both indoors and outdoors) and in enclosed spaces with poor ventilation. The guidance from seven countries, including Ireland, also includes a recommendation that individuals wear face masks when in the company of those at higher risk of severe COVID-19 outcomes.
Shelley O’Neill, HIQA Deputy Director of HTA, said: “While international guidance varies, overall, the guidance points towards the wearing of face masks in environments or situations where the risk of transmission is highest. A second theme in the guidance is the wearing of face masks to protect those at highest risk of severe outcomes, both by the individuals themselves and those that come in contact with them.”
HIQA will continue to review guidance, as requested by the COVID-19 Advisory Group and the Department of Health.
You can find the full report here.
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