Mark Ferris

and 14 more

IntroductionConsistent with World Health Organization (WHO) advice [1], UK Infection Protection Control guidance recommends that healthcare workers (HCWs) caring for patients with coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) should use fluid resistant surgical masks type IIR (FRSMs) as respiratory protective equipment (RPE), unless aerosol generating procedures (AGPs) are being undertaken or are likely, when a filtering face piece 3 (FFP3) respirator should be used [2]. In a recent update, an FFP3 respirator is recommended if “an unacceptable risk of transmission remains following rigorous application of the hierarchy of control” [3]. Conversely, guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that HCWs caring for patients with COVID-19 should use an N95 or higher level respirator [4]. WHO guidance suggests that a respirator, such as FFP3, may be used for HCWs in the absence of AGPs if availability or cost is not an issue [1].A recent systematic review undertaken for PHE concluded that: “patients with SARS-CoV-2 infection who are breathing, talking or coughing generate both respiratory droplets and aerosols, but FRSM (and where required, eye protection) are considered to provide adequate staff protection” [5]. Nevertheless, FFP3 respirators are more effective in preventing aerosol transmission than FRSMs, and observational data suggests that they may improve protection for HCWs [6]. It has therefore been suggested that respirators should be considered as a means of affording the best available protection [7], and some organisations have decided to provide FFP3 (or equivalent) respirators to HCWs caring for COVID-19 patients, despite a lack of mandate from local or national guidelines [8].Data from the HCW testing programme at Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (CUHNFT) during the first wave of the UK severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) pandemic indicated a higher incidence of infection amongst HCWs caring for patients with COVID-19, compared with those who did not [9]. Subsequent studies have confirmed this observation [10, 11]. This disparity persisted at CUHNFT in December 2020, despite control measures consistent with PHE guidance and audits indicating good compliance. The CUHNFT infection control committee therefore implemented a change of RPE for staff on “red” (COVID-19) wards from FRSMs to FFP3 respirators. In this study, we analyse the incidence of SARS-CoV-2 infection in HCWs before and after this transition.