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PPE is always a hot topic and today’s focus is masks. There are many types of masks that are used to protect people from infections. Here are descriptions of the two main types of masks we use in healthcare:

  • Surgical masks are the most common type and come in three different levels of protection based how resistant they are to fluids (like blood). Some surgical masks have ear loops, some tie behind the head, and some have face shields as part of the mask. UW Medicine is using a wide variety of masks throughout the hospitals and clinics so be prepared to see different brands and styles depending on what our Supply Chain colleagues can purchase. No matter what, all of the masks UW Medicine buys are safe for clinical use.
  • N95 masks (a type of respirator) are used for specific procedures (like intubating someone with COVID-19) and for diseases that float in the air for a long time (like tuberculosis). Using an N95 requires a fit test for the specific mask that you are using. N95s don’t work for everyone, and if they don’t that person should use a PAPR or CAPR if a respirator is required.

There is one more mask that is important – the cloth mask (or face cover) that many of us are wearing to protect ourselves, our community and our co-workers. UW Medicine strongly supports your decision to wear a cloth mask for these reasons. All staff and faculty are encouraged to follow the CDC’s recommendation to wear cloth face covers in public where physical distancing is difficult. You are welcome to wear these masks at work, but if you are going to be on a patient care unit or in a clinic, please exchange your cloth mask for a surgical mask. When you leave the patient care area for the day, you can return to using your cloth face covering. When you get home, think of your mask like a pair of socks and wash it before you use it again!

Look out for additional guidance later this week to support the increased and equitable use of universal healthcare worker masking in UW Medicine clinics and hospitals, especially while working on COVID-19 units.

Always remember: the most important part of using any mask is to wash your hands before and after putting it on, touching it and after you remove it.

For more information from the CDC, please see Use of Cloth Face Coverings to Help Slow the Spread of COVID-19.