Guidance on the use of surgical masks when healthcare is being provided in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic

Changes to the guidelines released on April 22nd 2020

  • Clarification of the basis reported on April 22.04.2020 for guidelines on the use of surgical masks.
  • Clarification on the implementation of the law of 15 minutes.
  • Clarification on proper use of surgical masks.
  • Clarification on the disposal of surgical masks in environments where there is no clear access to a source of risk of waste from healthcare.
    On April 21, 2020, the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) agreed to amend HPSC guidelines in compliance with a recommendation by the NPHET on the use of surgical masks. This guidance represents the NPHET decision and replaces previous HPSC guidelines relating to the use of surgical masks in the sense of Healthcare during Pandemic COVID-19. The contents of this guideline will be integrated as they are revised into other guideline documents on Infection Prevention and Control.

In the context of viral respiratory tract infection, the use of surgical masks by healthcare workers has two


  • To reduce the risk of droplet infection transmission to the wearer.
  • To reduce the risk of infection transmission to others through droplets.


  • Health care staff should wear surgical masks when delivering treatment to patients and are within 2 m of a individual, regardless of the person’s COVID-19 status.
  • All health-care staff should wear surgical masks for all contacts, 15 minutes or more, with other health-care employees at the workplace where a gap of 2 m can not be maintained.

This means a health-care worker will donate a mask if they expect one or more other health-care workers to be within 2 m for a continuous time of 15 minutes or more.

Safe use of masks
Always change your mask:

  • When you answer the telephone or take a drink/break
  • When leaving a clinical area
  • If your mask is wet, dirty or damaged.
  • When leaving a person’s home.

Never fidget with your mask when it is on and never store your mask in your pocket.

When a surgical mask is no longer necessary or a fresh surgical mask is needed the surgical mask must be removed and safely disposed of.

  • If you have access to a danger stream of waste from healthcare, discard the surgical masks in that stream of waste.
  • In settings where there is no exposure to a stream of healthcare risk waste, for example in a person’s home, waste volumes are typically small, and the following solution is appropriate in that context.
  • Individual with known / suspect COVID-19: The mask will be used in this context in conjunction with other elements of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). The mask and all other PPE things should be thrown away into a plastic bag. The bag is never to be loaded mmore than three quarters full.
  • The first bag should be tightly tied and placed in another waste bag (double bag) inside. This bag should be stored safely in the usual domestic waste stream for 72 hours before setting it out for collection.
  • Individual not known or suspected of having COVID-19: In this context, when needed for Standard Precautions, the mask may be used alone or in combination with gloves or apron; The mask and other products can be discarded as domestic waste in the absence of a clear awareness of the danger of infectious disease (such as COVID-19). Read More
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