COVID-19: NHS Staff Face a Close Shave to Ensure Face Masks Work

Peter Russell

February 28, 2020

Clinical staff at an NHS trust in England have been asked to shave their beards to ensure that face masks fit more securely in an effort to limit the spread of COVID-19.

The request came in an email sent by Dr Derek Sandeman, medical director of University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust, along with an infographic depicting different beard styles and their compatibility with respiratory protective equipment.

The memo said: "You will see that the presence of facial hair compromises the ability to protect any individual through a mask.

“I am writing to ask those who do not have a strong cultural or religious reason for a beard and who are working in at risk areas to consider shaving.

"I recognise for some this is a big ask, that beards are so popular at present. However I do believe this is the right thing to do."

Coronavirus

The hospital trust confirmed to Medscape News UK that the email and graphic had been circulated to staff. A spokesman said guidance was "relevant to any clinical staff with the potential to come into contact with suspected cases of coronavirus".

It is understood that a copy of the email was sent to The Sun newspaper by a recipient.

The infographic showed how certain types of beards could interfere with the workings of a respirator by compromising the sealing surface.

Source: CDC

Full beards, mutton chops, and even stubble were classed as inappropriate for use with face masks. However, side whiskers, a 'Zappa', and a pencil moustache were approved.

The graphic was created by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the US. However, its release was not specifically linked to the new coronavirus as it was produced in 2017. However, it has been shared widely by infection specialists on social media.

'A Known Problem'

"The email was sent proactively to address a known problem with fit testing in people with facial hair to highlight the need to ensure equipment can be sealed tightly for maximum protection," the hospital trust spokesman said.

The Health and Safety Executive advises that stubble and beards make it impossible to get a good seal of the mask to the face.

It advises that being clean shaven "will help prevent leakage of contaminated air around the edges of the mask and into your lungs".

It says that alternative types of respiratory protective equipment are available for people with good reason to wear a beard, including for religious reasons.

We approached NHS England to ask whether advice on facial hair would become standard practise throughout the health system. No comment had been received at the time of publication.

If you have a beard, Medscape UK is interested in what you think.

Do you think the advice is necessary?

Would you shave off your beard if management asks?

If not, what are your reasons?

Please reply by email or use the comments box.

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