AGP Alliance Statement – recognition of the role of airborne transmission

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The AGP Alliance welcome the UK Government’s latest public information campaign on the importance of ventilation and meeting outdoors to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The new television and online adverts rightly remind us to consider “Hands, Face, Space and Fresh Air”, and emphasise that someone who is infected with COVID-19 releases infectious particles into the air by simply “coughing, talking or breathing”.

This is the very basis of the argument our alliance has been making to the government for over eight months. Despite this, there has been no update to the personal protective equipment (PPE) guidance to recognise the risk of airborne spread to the hundreds of thousands of health and care staff who have been working so hard to fight the pandemic, many of whom have succumbed to the disease.

At the moment PPE that can protect against airborne spread (including FFP3 Masks) is only required when undertaking an “Aerosol Generating Procedure” within two meters of a patient. The rest of the time only a surgical mask is required. It is clear, and this latest campaign recognises, that it is possible to contract and spread the disease just by being in same room as someone with COVID-19.

Imagine how much more likely you are to catch COVID-19 if you are spending a 12-hour shift in a room with multiple, seriously ill patients with the disease – and frequently providing care within two meters of a COVID patient. A surgical mask is clearly not sufficient. PPE has a very clear definition in UK law which does not include surgical masks. Surgical masks, which are instead classed as medical devices, provide extremely limited protection against inhaling airborne viruses.

It would not be realistic or effective to ventilate every health or care environment where COVID-19 patients are being treated. Ventilation is not the solution to close range exposure to COVID-19.

It would be much simpler to give all our hard-working health and care professionals the PPE they need to stay safe and keep their patients safe. The government has had multiple opportunities to change course and have failed to do so, but it’s still not too late to get it right, for this pandemic and for those in the future. Our healthcare workers deserve nothing less.