What has changed
This guidance replaces the previous guidance on face mask use in social care settings: Coronavirus (COVID-19): use of face coverings in social care settings including adult care homes, first published 23 June 2021.
Due to a number of factors including high vaccinations rates and other mitigations against COVID-19 in the social care sector, the recommendation that face masks are worn at all times is being removed. The PPE requirements for SIPCs and TBPs remain as before. Detailed guidance is set out below, but the key changes to the guidance are:
- staff providing direct care do not need to routinely wear a face mask at all times during their shift
- staff in non-direct care roles (e.g. catering, domestic or office staff) do not need to routinely wear a face covering in communal areas
- visitors to adult care homes do not need to wear a mask or face covering including in communal areas
- staff and visitors may choose to wear a mask, and this should be supported
- while receiving care and support, individuals (or their representatives where relevant) may wish a member of staff to wear a mask. If so, this should be supported by staff and be recorded in care or support plans
Why the guidance has changed
Fluid resistance surgical masks (FRSMs) provide protection to the wearer and those around them, and therefore have a purpose within social care settings. However, we are in a position now where the extended use of masks and face coverings should be for particular situations and not the default position.
Although COVID-19 continues to spread, transmission rates are lower and the virus is currently milder than at earlier stages in the pandemic resulting in a reduction in severity of illness and hospitalisation.
The impact masks and face coverings can have on health and mental wellbeing, along with communication barriers, continues to be weighed against the protection provided against the risk of harm from COVID-19. The rights and choices of those within the social care sector, along with the understanding that many social care settings represent an individual’s home, have all been considered in reviewing the guidance on mask use.
Balancing all of these factors, it is now the right time to move from routine face mask and face covering use, to a person-centred risk-based approach.
The fundamental principles of IPC precautions continue to be essential. Therefore, there will continue to be situations where the Health Protection Team or Infection Prevention and Control Team may advise on the reintroduction of mask wearing, in cluster or some outbreak situations. In addition staff may recommend mask use in certain situations deemed to pose an increased risk, for example where there is poor ventilation, crowding, or risk of splash of blood, body fluids, secretions or excretions onto the nose and mouth, as per SICPs. This is to minimise the risk of the spread of infection, including COVID-19, in social care settings.
Vaccination remains the greatest protection against COVID-19 and uptake amongst those within the social care sector remains high. A further booster dose is now being rolled out, to maximise protection as we head towards winter 2022/23, and encourage all those eligible to take up this offer. Treatments for COVID-19 are also available.
We understand for some there may be concern with this change in guidance and therefore a person-centred approach should be adopted. Those receiving care and support, staff and visitors may choose to wear a mask, and this should be supported.
Watch a video about the changes to the guidance on face mask use in social care settings.
Posters on face mask use in social care settings are available in the 'Supporting documents' section of this guidance.
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