Personal protective equipment (PPE) and masks during the COVID-19 outbreak

What is PPE?

PPE stands for personal protective equipment. PPE is any form of equipment designed to protect a person undertaking a task that may present a risk to their health. For fire officers, PPE is fire retardant suits and helmets or oxygen masks. For people doing DIY at home, PPE is often safety glasses or a dust mask.
In hospitals, medical teams often wear protective gowns, gloves, masks or visors to protect them from splashes, spills or contamination from bacteria and viruses. The PPE protects healthcare workers from diseases, but also ensures diseases are not carried from patient to patient.

What are the issues around PPE?

As with all new infections, health systems are learning all the time about the most effective way of protecting staff and patients. The advice on PPE has been updated, so, if you visit a healthcare setting and have a one-to-one interaction with a healthcare worker, they are likely to be wearing a surgical mask, gown and gloves. This is to protect both of you. The difficulty for patients and healthcare workers is that wearing PPE makes the interaction less personal, but hopefully we will all adapt to this.

In higher-risk settings, doctors and nurses are wearing more extensive PPE. You shouldn’t worry about the availability of this and the effects on your health. This more extensive use of PPE is mainly to do with protecting healthcare workers.

Should I wear a mask?

The guidance for everyone comes from the World Health Organization. At present, the advice is to observe strict social distancing and to take care by washing your hands regularly and thoroughly.

In relation to masks specifically:

  • If you are healthy, then you only need to wear a mask if you are taking care of a person with suspected COVID-19 infection.
  • Wear a mask if you are coughing or sneezing.
  • Masks are effective only when used in combination with frequent hand-cleaning, performed with alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water.

If you wear a mask, then you must know how to use it and dispose of it properly.

Please visit for how to put masks on, off and how to dispose of them properly.

Please note: this guidance on the wearing of masks is under review. Follow the news daily to keep up to date with the latest position. The WHO guidance can be found at:

The guidance says ‘if you are healthy’. I have a PID, so what do I do?

For the purposes of the guidance, ‘if you are healthy’ means if you don’t have COVID-19 symptoms. Coughing or sneezing patients should wear a mask when with other people, indoors or out.

This advice was written by the Chair of the PID UK Medical Panel

Posted 3rd April 2020