Healthcare institutions' recommendation regarding the use of FFP-2 masks and SARS-CoV-2 seropositivity among healthcare workers: a multicenter longitudinal cohort study

Antimicrob Resist Infect Control. 2022 Jan 10;11(1):6. doi: 10.1186/s13756-021-01047-x.


Background: Health care workers (HCW) are heavily exposed to SARS-CoV-2 from the beginning of the pandemic. We aimed to analyze risk factors for SARS-CoV-2 seroconversion among HCW with a special emphasis on the respective healthcare institutions' recommendation regarding the use of FFP-2 masks.

Methods: We recruited HCW from 13 health care institutions (HCI) with different mask policies (type IIR surgical face masks vs. FFP-2 masks) in Southeastern Switzerland (canton of Grisons). Sera of participants were analyzed for the presence of SARS-CoV-2 antibodies 6 months apart, after the first and during the second pandemic wave using an electro-chemiluminescence immunoassay (ECLIA, Roche Diagnostics). We captured risk factors for SARS-CoV-2 infection by using an online questionnaire at both time points. The effects of individual COVID-19 exposure, regional incidence and FFP-2 mask policy on the probability of seroconversion were evaluated with univariable and multivariable logistic regression.

Results: SARS-CoV-2 antibodies were detected in 99 of 2794 (3.5%) HCW at baseline and in 376 of 2315 (16.2%) participants 6 months later. In multivariable analyses the strongest association for seroconversion was exposure to a household member with known COVID-19 (aOR: 19.82, 95% CI 8.11-48.43, p < 0.001 at baseline and aOR: 8.68, 95% CI 6.13-12.29, p < 0.001 at follow-up). Significant occupational risk factors at baseline included exposure to COVID-19 patients (aOR: 2.79, 95% CI 1.28-6.09, p = 0.010) and to SARS-CoV-2 infected co-workers (aOR: 2.50, 95% CI 1.52-4.12, p < 0.001). At follow up 6 months later, non-occupational exposure to SARS-CoV-2 infected individuals (aOR: 2.54, 95% CI 1.66-3.89 p < 0.001) and the local COVID-19 incidence of the corresponding HCI (aOR: 1.98, 95% CI 1.30-3.02, p = 0.001) were associated with seroconversion. The healthcare institutions' mask policy (surgical masks during usual exposure vs. general use of FFP-2 masks) did not affect seroconversion rates of HCW during the first and the second pandemic wave.

Conclusion: Contact with SARS-CoV-2 infected household members was the most important risk factor for seroconversion among HCW. The strongest occupational risk factor was exposure to COVID-19 patients. During this pandemic, with heavy non-occupational exposure to SARS-CoV-2, the mask policy of HCIs did not affect the seroconversion rate of HCWs.

Keywords: FFP-2 and surgical masks; Healthcare workers; Mask policy; SARS-CoV-2; Seroconversion.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Antibodies, Viral / blood
  • COVID-19 / epidemiology*
  • COVID-19 / prevention & control*
  • COVID-19 / transmission
  • Cohort Studies
  • Female
  • Health Personnel* / statistics & numerical data
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Masks* / standards
  • Masks* / statistics & numerical data
  • Masks* / supply & distribution
  • Middle Aged
  • Pandemics*
  • Prospective Studies
  • Risk Factors
  • SARS-CoV-2* / immunology
  • Seroconversion
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Switzerland / epidemiology


  • Antibodies, Viral