Feb 27, 2023

It’s time to remove all mask mandates for aged care workers

aged care worker

It’s been three long years since Covid-19 arrived on our shores.

During that time, seniors living in residential aged care facilities have been forced to endure more than the average person can comprehend.

In addition to the visitor restrictions, bedroom isolation, and extended lockdowns, masks became a part of everyday life for residents, while staff were forced to contend with both a mask and facial shields as they attempted to communicate with those in their care.

With an estimated 50% of Australian aged care residents having a form of hearing impairment, the combination of mask-muffled voices and a lack of visual facial cues continue to impede communication. 

For those of us in the broader community, the easing of mask restrictions signaled an end to the panic and the return of mask-free faces was a reminder to smile and continue living. 

However, much like lockdowns, the legacy of masks continues in aged care with no end in sight. 

To put things in perspective, the average length of stay in an Australian aged care home is two and a half years. Meaning, that the majority of people who entered aged care in early 2020 have lived and died without seeing a smile from the staff who inhabit their homes. 

With Covid-19 essentially endemic in Australia and the efficacy of masks in stopping the spread of Covid-19 highly disputed, the time has come for aged care staff to doff their masks and provide seniors with the same sense of relief being afforded to the rest of society. 

When PPE goes OTT

Both the ACT and South Australia have recently changed legislation and left the mask-wearing requirements of staff to the discretion of aged care providers. Despite this, many facilities chose to leave staff masking requirements in place.

Meanwhile, Australia’s remaining States and Territories continue to press forward with staff masking mandates with no end in sight.

In an interview with HelloCare, infectious disease expert and common-sense COVID-19 communicator, Dr Nick Coatsworth shared his thoughts on the prospect of removing the masks from aged care staff and letting everyone – both literally and figuratively – breathe a little easier. 

“I think they should come off,” said Dr Coatsworth.

“I think they should only be used when you’re caring for a confirmed positive [case] or in a situation where your nursing home has got a significant outbreak.”

With current variants of COVID-19 now “intrinsically more mild” than earlier variants according to Dr Coatsworth, the negative impact on residents’ mental health brought about by mask-wearing should be weighted heavier than the physical ramifications of COVID-19.

“My dad died of dementia in 2012, and communicating was hard enough as it was,” shared Dr Coatsworth.

“It’s at the point where we have to consider the other well-being issues of the residents and I think that we need to nuance this stuff.

“I certainly think, in aged care, it would be lovely if we saw a recommendation come out that unless there was an outbreak, you could dispense with the masks and just get on with caring for people.”

Truth Unmasked?

During the first two years of the pandemic, questioning any aspect of the government’s COVID-19 protocols or narrative was branded ‘dangerous.’

However, with the benefit of hindsight and mounting evidence, it is clear that the risk-averse nature of the government’s pandemic response created some issues that may or may not have been more detrimental to public health than the virus itself.

Last week, the famed New York Times published an article highlighting the latest findings on the “most rigorous and comprehensive analysis” ever conducted on the ability of face masks to reduce the spread of illnesses including COVID-19.

According to Oxford University epidemiologist and lead author of the study, Tom Jefferson, the findings were unequivocal. 

“There is just no evidence that they” — masks — “make any difference,” he told the journalist Maryanne Demasi. “Full stop.”

In addition, the study found absolutely no difference in efficacy between N-95 masks compared to low-quality surgical or cloth masks.

Jefferson and 11 colleagues for Cochrane, which is widely considered the gold standard of healthcare data analysis and review. The conclusions were evidenced by 78 randomised controlled trials, six of which took place during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

After tracking the heath of more than 600,000 trial participants across multiple countries across the globe the findings were comprehensive. Mask mandates made no difference to the spread of COVID-19 on the population. 

When asked about the previous studies that informed government mandate policy in the US, Jefferson states that they were convinced by “non-randomised studies” which produced “flawed” observations and were at greater risk for bias. 

Although the results from the study are certainly intriguing, it’s important to note these findings are not a definitive insight into the efficacy of masks in aged care and healthcare settings.However, the results can be viewed as a reminder as to why all of the remaining COVID-19 restrictions in aged care should be under constant review and why people should be given a right to assess risk in their living and working environments whenever possible.

COVID-19 is not going away. It’s time that the COVID-19 hysteria does.

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  1. This is a very irresponsible article. It lacks balance & latches onto the views of well known COVID minimisers to justify abandoning basic protection measures. The reality that is not even mentioned in this article is that people in aged care are at significantly higher risk of dying of COVID.

    Aged care homes have to balance two sets of risks & it is not easy. On the one hand, they are held accountable if residents die preventable deaths. On the other, this is a resident’s home & communication is more difficult in PPE.

    The really is that this article is actually arguing that a smile is worth increasing the chance of residents dying. I’m sure many residents and their families would not agree

    1. Hi Kathy,
      Thank you kindly for your comment.
      The public has been well informed regarding the heightened risk of death and illness for seniors for more than three years.
      This article is an opinion piece in which the writer is asking aged care providers and the government to consider the toll of masking on the mental health of residents, as the majority of experts believe that current strains of COVID-19 are equal to or lesser than the average flu.
      While flu outbreaks also require masking and isolation at times, residents are not subject to flu outbreak protocols year around. Like the staff, many residents would also like to see an end to masks. All voices deserve to be heard.

  2. Thank goodness some commonsense is now prevailing for the Aged Care sector! I have to take my mask off to virtually every resident just so they can understand what I am saying, otherwise the resident becomes agitated and confused when they cannot understand what staff are saying to them.It amazes myself as well that we Aged Care staff are discriminated against as if we are disease carriers. Most of the issues of covid came from visitors who would not wear their masks when visiting their loved ones. Right in the middle of a pandemic they had to constantly be told to “please keep your mask on for the safety of the residents and the staff”. Most just disregarded the rules.

  3. You have got to be joking?! Getting advice from Nick Chatsworth? My mother, aged 91 contracted Covid from an unmasked staff member late December when the aged care facility in which she resides decided that Covid was over, and smiles were back, so no masks…she almost died, had a heart attack in the hospital and is very much weakened by the experience. Someone whose expertise is “content & creative strategy” should not be giving medical advice. This article is an absolute disgrace!

    1. With respect. I would say that your mother would have been alot sicker or worse, had she contracted the flu 4 years ago. Alot of the elderly have so many health issues and this is the reason they in an aged care facility.Some elderly die with a cold and have done so since day dot, even with modern medicine and PPE worn by staff. When I see all the health issues that some elderly have I have to wonder how on earth are they still here. So many are being kept afloat. Just. Without the Nurses and AINs most would have just passed away yrs ago in hospitals or at home. So at best they are getting amazing cares with pharmaceutical and medical interventions to live longer. At worst they languish in aged care with hardly any or no visitors day in day out. Some choose to stay in their rooms all day. By law we cannot force them to join others or even shower if they don’t want to. We can only encourage them as best we can. So many are bedbound and suffer dementia. I think we need to look at quality of life and get off the scare wagon!

      1. You know nothing of my mother’s health, so “anonymous“ refrain from making comments on it.
        I have yet to contract Covid as I dine outdoors, wear a mask when indoors. In fact I sat in Mum’s hospital room with her for 4 hours in my P2 mask, convinced I’d finally get it but didn’t.
        I’m unsubscribing from this now so any further trolling will be ignored

      2. I work in aged care and agree totally with your opinion that many aged care residents would love to see a friendly face than one with a mask. Many times I have been told to “pull that thing down , I can’t understand you”. We have been fortunate enough to not have severe outbreaks in our small facility, but we have had some minor ones. Unfortunately the resident has been out to family get togethers and a family member has passed the condition on to their aged family member who then return to the facility. We can’t stop people from going out or who they mix with . But then it’s the same when it’s flu season. People get sick ! The residents are so over being tested every other day for Covid 19 symptoms they hate it. But it’s what we are told to do. Aged people will eventually pass away, be it from Covid complications, flu complications or an infection or maybe just old age. But we can help them have a dignified death.

      3. Agreed !! I work in recreation and is it ever hard to do Activities with them I also find a lot more become very depressed think about it all masked people all day in there home they don’t know if your mean or loving and they don’t remember it’s the same thing day in and out.

  4. I cannot believe that Coatesworth is at it again. This is just wrong. The pandemic is not over. More people are dying each day, not to mention the epidemic of Long COVID. Go to Raina MacIntyre. For the ividence

  5. So even though there are outbreaks of covid right throughout Australia where the Aged Care & Quality commission are bringing out statistics 4 times a month providing the numbers of patients and staff obtaining covid your institution is saying masks should be not be mandated
    So you are basically saying it’s more important to have staff comfortable than having current reported to this day communicable diseases with DEATH tolls spread ..
    Interesting organisation you have.

  6. I work in community care, in people’s homes. My clients are always asking me to ‘take that thing off’. Everyone else in their lives do not wear masks, it does seem ridiculous that I do. I am also required to test 2x weekly for covid, so am potentially the ‘safest’ person they see.
    Couldn’t it come down to dignity of risk? Individual clients decide their mask preferences.

  7. When will the aged care sector take off masks for workers? I was told by Opal Aged Care that is rule of wearing masks was mandated by the government. When I told them it wasn’t so and that they had made up this rule, they shut me down.

    Please I want my job back but I can’t wear a mask for 8 hours watching the poor faces of the dear residents not knowing what I am muffling on about behind my mask. Can’t we treat the aged with dignity and treat them the same as everybody else. And that is No Masks. Nobody is wearing masks not even in the hospitals. This is ridiculous.

    Where do I sign a petition please.

  8. The study cited has been rejected by numerous leading Australian epidemiologists, who also have ZERO time for populist non fact based Nick Coatsworth i.e. the guy who said COVID was 100%not airborne when the real world experts were asserting it emphatically IS. The study also lumped together people who wear a mask in SOME situations with those who wear them ALL the time. Secondly, it only sought to assess mask wearing from the perspective of the wearer. That’s only ONE factor of what masks are for. i.e. as in a nursing home, they are about protecting the residents from infected staff and visitors. This was not at all assessed here.

    Have you ever thought about cultures where people wear face coverings all day. Or other professions where masks are a constant norm. I don’t hear of some great psychological toll here? Can we toughen up a bit. Its a piece of material people. Or the fact that one can do something really novel, like take a walk or a wheelchair outside and thus remove the mask with your family member and / or person you are caring for. We all need that b enzyme from the sun too!

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