Understanding the transmission of COVID-19 requires interdisciplinary teams

Covid-19: Health staff in plea for better protection is a depressing headline to be reading at any time, let alone a year and half into a pandemic. NHS healthcare workers have less protection to infection than those in many other countries, for example, the USA. Totally understandably many in the NHS are not happy about this. The Royal College of Nursing is just one of the unhappy organisations. The official infection-prevention guidelines were updated on 1st June but are still pretty hopeless, with pages on ensuring masks are stored in a “clean, dry area” (page 19) – which is a nice I guess but hardly an essential point – but almost nothing on the fact that proper FFP3 PPE masks offer you much more protection than a surgical mask.

I don’t know all the (probably multiple) reasons behind this poor, non-evidence based, set of guidelines for fighting the transmission of COVID-19 but one reason may be a basic lack of the understanding by the people writing these guidelines. The NHS relies on part on the government’s New & Emerging Respiratory Threats Advisory Group (NERVTAG), and their biographies make interesting/depressing reading. NERVTAG is mostly medics, plus a few epidemiologists and social scientists.

As far as I can see none of them has the right education/skills to understand how masks work. Masks are air filters that we wear on our face, and air filtration is basically fluid mechanics and aerosol science. Nobody on the panel has any idea of either of those, as far as I can see. Searches for “mask” and “aerosol” yielded zero hits, while one for “clinical” gave 18 hits.

I hope the NHS staff’s plea for better protection from COVID-19 succeeds, but I worry that with the government’s “expert committee” lacking any relevant expertise, I don’t know how they are going to argue their case.

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