No agreement on mandatory use of face masks in healthcare in Spain

by Lorraine Williamson
face masks agreement

The Spanish Ministry of Health and the Autonomous Communities have not reached an agreement on making the use of face masks mandatory in health centres, social health centres and pharmacies throughout Spain.

The measure was proposed to counter the increase in the number of respiratory viruses in Spain in recent days.

On Monday, under the leadership of Minister Mónica García, there was an extraordinary meeting of the ministers of the sector. The ministry circulated a proposal for the communities to respond to.

Health sources reported that the ministry’s proposal aims to provide “the same level of protection for all citizens” and to give legal coverage to the communities that have already decreed it (Valencia, Catalonia and Murcia).

Scientifically proven and well received by the population

In an audio message sent to the media, García reported that during the online meeting, the use of this measure was discussed. She considers the measure to be “effective and demonstrate common sense”. The mandatory wearing of the face mask is supported by scientific evidence and is “well received by the population”.

The initiative of some communities to extend the obligation to use to pharmacies was also discussed. As well as the need to provide legal support to communities “of different political hues that have already introduced the obligation in their health systems”. 

These autonomous regions recommend face masks

However, many regions are totally opposed to making the use of face masks mandatory and are in favour of only recommending their use.

Cantabria has chosen to maintain the recommendation to use the mask in health centres, without making it mandatory, because the situation “is not so alarming”. The peak would have already passed.

The regional minister of health of the Madrid Community, Fátima Matute, has “at the moment” ruled out the obligation, recommending the voluntary wearing of the mask in hospitals, homes and health centres.

Navarre is also not in favour of making it compulsory. The Ministry of Health believes that the adoption of this measure would entail a change in regulations that “should be thoroughly studied” and has argued in favour of recommending it.

The Ministry of Health of Castilla y León is also not considering making the mask mandatory and has put up posters in health centres with the message: “Your responsibility protects the most vulnerable”.

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Galicia on Friday extended the recommendation by 15 days to still include the wave of infection, The Basque Country also recommends wearing the face mask.

Castilla-La Mancha has proposed to convene a meeting with the Alert Committee and the Health Commission “so that the technical experts can say what the recommended measures are”. The federal government also advocated that face masks should not be made mandatory, but only recommended, and appealed to the population’s sense of responsibility.

Andalucia is also demanding “technical criteria” from the Ministry of Health to assess the use of the face mask, “technical accuracy”. This autonomous region recommends its use in health and social care centres, but does not make it mandatory.

These regions (partially) require the use of face masks

The first region to mandate the use of a face mask in health centres was the Valencian Community. The preventive measure has been in place since Friday due to the increase in respiratory infections.

Catalonia followed suit, the Ministry of Health made the use mandatory on Monday. Wearing the face mask in the Murcia region became mandatory on Saturday.

The Government of Aragón has opted for a partial obligation, as it is only limited to health workers and caregivers in social and health centres, recommending it for all citizens in closed areas.

Support from the medical world

The mandatory use of face masks in health centres is supported by the Family Medicine Associations, the Spanish Society of Emergency Medicine (SEMES) and the Federation of Associations for the Defense of Public Health (FADSP), which even propose to extend the obligation to public transport and spaces without adequate ventilation.

Obligation expired on July 5

If the mandatory use of the mask had been imposed in health centres, it would have reduced a measure that expired six months ago, on July 5, 2023, when the agreement of the Council of Ministers was published in the BOE, whereby wearing it was no longer mandatory in health and socio-medical centres and services and pharmacies.

Increase in the number of hospital admissions

According to the latest data from the Acute Respiratory Infection Surveillance System (SiVIRA) of the Carlos III Health Institute, hospitalisations due to influenza increased by 60% in one week to 9.5 cases per 100,000 inhabitants, or 3.6% more than the previous week, and increasing since the end of October.

The total number of acute respiratory infections in primary health care in the last week of December is 952.9 cases per 100,000, well above the 533.4 at the beginning of the month. The pressure on health centres in Spain is still extremely high at the moment.

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