The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare on Tuesday, 21 July, issued an advisory to state governments and union territories warning them against the “inappropriate use” of wearing an N95 mask with a valved respirator.
In a letter to the Principal Secretaries of health and medical education of states, Rajiv Garg, the Director-General of Health Services (DGHS) recently pointed out the “inappropriate use” of N-95 masks with valved respirators by the public. “It is to bring to your knowledge that the use of valved respirator N-95 masks is detrimental to the measures adopted for preventing the spread of coronavirus as it does not prevent the virus from escaping out of the mask,” Garg wrote in the letter.
Wearing masks in public places is mandatory across India. The advisory issued is only against the use of N95 masks with valves. The primary purpose of a mask is to prevent asymptomatic or an asymptomatic person from spreading the virus when they either talk, exhale, or cough. A valve, however, enables the virus to seep through, thus spreading the virus. Therefore, these masks defeat the purpose of wearing a mask - ie it does not stop the spread of the virus. Doctors have been discouraging the use of N-95 masks with exhaled valves in patient-management, said Dr. Vikas Maurya, director & head, department of pulmonology & sleep disorders, Fortis Hospital, Shalimar Bagh, New Delhi. “If a COVID-19 patient is exhaling through the valve in the mask and there is another person in front wearing only a cloth mask, it does not really eliminate the risk of being infected. So at our hospital, we ensure people in the COVID wards are wearing normal N-95 masks without valves,” he added. The central Health Ministry also asked people to follow its advisory on the use of homemade protective cover for face and mouth. “The risk is less. Cloth masks are obviously not as high-grade as N-95 but it is sufficient to keep the virus at bay. Besides if we allow everyone to wear N-95 masks, there could be a shortage of health care professionals who need it. But if one is visiting a hospital for some reason, they should at least wear a surgical mask or N-95 masks without valves,” said Dr. Maurya.