RIVM quietly changes face mask advice in elder care
Public health institute RIVM quietly changed its guidelines on the use of face masks in elderly care. The advise always stated that masks were "not necessary" if elderly care workers only had "short contact" with the people in their care. On August 17, that was changed to face masks are "necessary, even for short contacts, Nieuwsuur reports based on its own research. The elderly care professional groups were not informed of this change.
According to Nieuwsuur, the RIVM told it that no new scientific insight prompted this change. The previous advice that masks were not necessary came from a period of scarcity and was also based on this, in combination with the "very small risk" of becoming infected through fleeting contact. Why that "very small risk" is now deemed serious enough for the guidelines to change, the RIVM did not say.
Which seems to indicate that the current lack of scarcity was behind the change. That contradicts Health Minister Hugo de Jonge, who always said that the guidelines on masks in different parts of healthcare were meant to ensure that masks weren't used unnecessarily in a period of scarcity. He always stressed that safety, not scarcity was the deciding factor behind the guidelines of which healthcare workers should get masks when.
Professor of health law Jaap Sijmons told Nieuwsuur that the risk of infection is indeed smaller at short contact, but that this reasoning cannot be used in healthcare. "If you keep briefly seeing many different patients, you end up with long-term exposure taken together," he said. He believes that healthcare workers who became ill due to the RIVM guidelines can hold the Ministry liable. Employees rely on the government guidelines that was presented as a rule for safety, but arose from scarcity, he said.
Another noteworthy point is that the RIVM did not inform the umbrella organizations in elderly care, who have been critical about the 'no mask necessary' rule for months, about this change in guidelines. "What is coming out now raises questions about the trust in the RIVM," Gerton Heyne of the Association of Nursers and Carers said to the program. Hans Buijing of sector association ZorgthuisNL called it "outrageous". "With the directive, a choice was made to let people work unsafely, even though they knew this was not justified."