You May Not Be Allowed in a Hospital With This Mask

This face mask is so risky some places won't let you inside if you're wearing it.

Throughout the pandemic, many new kinds of face coverings have emerged, each promising to keep people safe from the coronavirus. As new masks cropped up, experts would either vouch for the face covering or explain why it wouldn't work against COVID-19. But there is one mask that health professionals have consistently warned people to avoid: valve masks. In fact, masks with valves are so risky that the Mayo Clinic in Arizona is not allowing patients inside if they're wearing them.

Many people have taken to valve masks because they are more breathable, allowing air to pass through the vent. However, the very thing that makes them appealing is also what makes them harmful. According to The Arizona RepublicKai Singbartl, MD, the chair for infection prevention and control at the Mayo Clinic, said these masks "defeat the purpose" because "they are unfiltered." The air that escapes through the vent could also carry viral droplets, which puts others at risk.

Kristine Romin, MD, told the newspaper, "In a sterile field, they're absolutely banned because it allows unfiltered, exhaled air in." Romin is a doctor at Camelback Dermatology & Skin Surgery, another place where valve masks are banned in Arizona.

Girl wearing a face mask with a valve in it

Not only does Mayo Clinic forbid people from wearing valve masks in their hospital—a whole county has also banned them. Maricopa County's mask mandate explicitly says valve masks do not comply with their requirements. Per The Arizona Republic, the mask mandates in Yuma, Pima, and Santa Cruz counties have similar stipulations.

While the valve mask may keep the wearer safe, it puts others at risk. Rajiv Garg, MD, Directorate General of Health Services in India, wrote a letter to emphasize that using valved respirator masks "is detrimental to the measures adopted for preventing the spread of coronavirus as it does not prevent the virus from escaping out of the mask."

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Nikhil Modi, MD, explained to The Indian Express that "when you exhale, the expired air goes out of the valve in the N-95 mask. If the person wearing such a mask is infected, the COVID-19 virus can spread through the exhaled air into the atmosphere, which increases the risk of contamination of other people. So, in a way, it fails the coronavirus-control strategies."

Mask mandates will continue evolving as experts' understanding of the virus and various face coverings evolve. In the meantime, one thing we know for certain is that wearing a mask with a valve is just about as useful to those around you as not wearing a mask at all. And for more masks to avoid, This Is the Face Mask the CDC Doesn't Want You to Wear.

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