Hospital employees across the country have been blocked from wearing surgical masks in certain situations to protect against infection by the new coronavirus — including those they bring to work themselves. Workers at the Raymond G. Murphy VA Medical Center in Albuquerque, New Mexico, have been told not to wear face masks unless they have lingering respiratory symptoms after an illness, are under surveillance following COVID-19 exposure or are treating patients showing signs of COVID-19.
The restriction on wearing masks comes amid widespread shortages of personal protective equipment for health workers and confusion over shifting guidelines from federal officials. Such restrictions are in place at other hospitals, but there’s no indication yet that the practice is widespread. “There is little data that wearing surgical masks in general protect[s] the wearer from becoming infected with COVID-19, while giving the wearer a false sense of protection,” Andrew M. Welch, medical center director for the New Mexico VA Health Care System, noted in a Wednesday email obtained by New Mexico In Depth and ProPublica. On Friday morning, Welch sent staff another email responding to workers’ concerns about the mask ban.