The WorkSTEPS team continues to carefully track what is happening with the COVID-19 pandemic.
The article was originally published at: https://www.worksteps.com/news-and-insights/4-7-20-covid-19-brief-from-worksteps
A Message on COVID-19 from WorkSTEPS Medical Director, Dr. Ben Hoffman:
Masks Are In – Implications for Company Policies and Communications
Late last week the CDC issued a recommendation regarding the use of cloth face coverings (aka, face masks). While some have criticized the CDC for not acting sooner, we recognize that the delay was caused by an important debate about whether mask-wearing by the general public would be sufficiently effective to offset related risks. At the end of the day, it’s been determined that the benefits of mask-wearing (particularly the prevention of transmission by asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic people carrying the disease) outweigh two important risks:
- The risk that the general public will increase the scarcity of medical-grade masks (N-95 and surgical masks), making it even more difficult and expensive to provide proper protection to health care workers most at risk; and
- The risk that people wearing masks will gain a false sense of security, reducing their vigilance in practicing key behaviors – most notably social distancing.
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Through well-informed policies and clear communications, companies can make the most of disease-preventing benefits of mask-wearing while reducing the risks identified above.
The mask-wearing recommendation is new to the public, but it’s something we’ve been thinking about/advising on for a number of weeks. Following is a high-level summary of our guidance for policies and communications regarding masks. At the end, we’ve provided links to resources that can help you hone your policy and communications plan.
Company policies regarding the wearing of face masks for the prevention of Covid-19 should be guided by the following:
- Masks offer additive protection: A policy regarding the use of face masks recognizes that masks are not a substitute for other policies and nor do masks reduce the importance of other policies. Policies related to the daily screening of workers (questionnaire and temperature checks), social distancing or use of physical barriers, surface disinfection, personal hygiene, contact tracing/quarantine and safe return to work are all critical to establish and maintain, with mask policies offering simply another layer of protection.
- Required use of masks: The primary function of face masks is to prevent the spreading of the coronavirus by asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic employees. Therefore, to protect all workers, companies should consider requiring masks in circumstances where an employee’s work prohibits maintaining at least a 6-foot separation from others and where it is not possible to establish physical barriers to reduce exposure.
- Voluntary use of masks: Employees not required to wear masks should be allowed to wear masks if they choose.
- Medical vs. non-medical cloth masks: Due to a shortage of PPE for medical professionals, the CDC recommends against use of N-95 respirators or surgical masks for the general public in most instances. However, where an employee is required to wear a mask, it is ideal if a company assures that the mask they’re wearing consistently offers sufficient protection and that it is disposable (i.e., surgical masks).
Therefore – at least for the near-term – organizations should consider policies that conserve surgical masks by providing them only to employees who are required to wear them, and to allow other employees to voluntarily wear cloth masks (see links below).
There is a lot of buzz about the wearing of masks in traditional and social media channels right now and that makes for a challenging internal communication environment. Therefore, it is imperative that internal communications be strong. We recommend at two-tier strategy:
1. Policy Education: Under normal circumstances, a policy about wearing PPE is pretty straightforward; but this is no ordinary time. People are frightened, the shortage of PPE requires conservation, and as noted above, there’s a lot of “talk” about masks right now. So in communicating about your mask policy, be sure to address:
- Why masks, and why now
- Why some positions require masks and others do not
- For those required to use masks, the essentials of how to acquire, use, remove, etc.
- For those not required, make clear that people are welcome to wear cloth masks, and consider guidance regarding mask quality and appropriate parameters aligned with company dress codes (e.g., no political messaging)
2. General Education: Your organization has an opportunity to educate employees (and by extension their families and friends in the community) about the appropriate use of face masks for the prevention of Covid-19. Perhaps the most important message is that masks offer an added level of protection and that all need to continue to be vigilant about social distancing, personal hygiene, etc. Additional educational resources in links below.
Current thinking about how best to use masks to stunt the growth of Covid-19 is, like so much else, evolving. We will be monitoring research and looking for innovative practices to share with you in the weeks ahead. In the meantime, following are some resources that can help your organization develop a sound policy and communication strategy around the use of masks.
- CDC Recommendation on Cloth Face Covers: Background and rationale for the new recommendation.
- CDC Information on How to Make and Use Cloth Face Covers: Includes link to FAQs and information about how to make basic face coverings.
- How Masks Might Help Prevent Covid-19: Compelling graphics vividly illustrate how coronavirus is spread and how wearing a mask may help.
- Is A Homemade Mask Effective? And What’s The Best Way To Wear One? Practical advice in FAQ format.
Be well and stay safe,
Ben Hoffman, MD, MPH
Chief Medical Officer, WorkSTEPS
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