Today there was a COVID-19 press conference, with the Prime Minister Boris Johnson, and Sirs Chris Whitty and Patrick Valance. It is on YouTube. At about 38 minutes LBC’s Ben Kentish asked a couple of questions. Sir Chris Whitty gave what sounded to me like an excellent answer on vaccines, clear, authoritative, from the heart, and useful. Impressive. He was also also asked about some healthcare workers not getting FFP3 masks. Maybe the question was a little vague but the answer was certainly vague and he did imply that there was a debate about where an FFP3 was useful and where they are not.
Maybe there is a debate on where these high spec FFP3 masks should be used and where surgical masks should be used, but I worry that this debate is amongst medics who are not familiar with either the FFP3 or surgical mask standards. Sir Chris Whitty is a medic by training. To be clear, there really should not be any debate as to whether a healthcare worker is safer with an a FFP3 mask or a surgical mask. They are much safer with an FFP3 and I am a bit worried that our Chief Medical Officer is not being clearer on this, although to be fair on him it is unclear what debate he was referring to. It is possible he and many other medics are much more comfortable with the science of vaccines than with the science of masks.
Essentially, the FFP3 standard demands that as worn they should filter out around 98% of any particles. Surgical masks can easily leak 30%, so filter out maybe 70%. FFP3s offer about ten times the protection of a surgical mask. This relies on the standards for both types of mask, plus measurements. It is not, I think, up for debate.
The Prime Minister in his answer referenced nosocomial infections – a fancy term for infections acquired in a hospital – and one of the strains on the NHS is staff absences. Given how much better FFP3s are than surgical masks, I am surprised and disappointed that after almost two years of this pandemic we still apparently have a ‘debate’.