Nurses at a public hospital in Mexico were instructed at the start of the coronavirus pandemic not to wear face masks to avoid triggering panic among their patients, according to a report.

Managers at the IMSS General Hospital in Monclova, in the northern state of Coahuila, told the medical staff “that protective equipment wasn’t necessary,” nurse Charly Escobedo Gonzalez told Reuters.

Two doctors and an administrator at the facility – which became Mexico’s first hot spot for the virus — have died and at least 51 other workers have tested positive, at least four of whom have been hospitalized, the news outlet reported.

A senior official at the country’s main public health service IMSS, which runs the hospital, told Reuters that the health workers should be believed, though he did not confirm that nurses were told to not wear masks.

“Specifically, if they are saying that then of course we have to believe it,” Raul Pena Viveros told the outlet, adding that there can be misunderstandings about where it is appropriate to wear personal protective equipment.

“Not all of the workers have to wear the same equipment inside the hospital. And when this type of equipment is used badly…it runs out more quickly and they put workers who are in contact with patients at risk,” he said, adding that the hospital had been short of protective equipment and other materials.

According to the latest tally, 4,661 people have been infected and 296 have died in Mexico, where the coronavirus struck later than in the US, according to Reuters.

People leave a disinfection chamber at the entrance to the General Hospital of the Mexican Institute of Social Security.REUTERS/Sergio A. Rodriguez

In late March, the Monclova hospital became a focal point in the outbreak amid a lack of masks, soap and bleach there, staffers told the news agency.

As workers began to fall ill, floor managers ordered the staff not to wear masks, which some had bought themselves, seven workers told Reuters.

Due to a lack of N95 respirator masks, some workers used inappropriate masks that had been donated to them, said Pena Viveros, who this month spent a week at the hospital to investigate.

The General Hospital of the Mexican Institute of Social Security in Monclova, MexicoREUTERS/Sergio A. Rodriguez

He said the lack of N95 masks has since been resolved. The staff said it now has more protective gear but that masks are still lacking.

Three nurses told Reuters that some staffers continued wearing masks despite being instructed not to.

On March 22, a nursing supervisor told workers in the emergency room to remove their N95 masks because they were not necessary, a nurse who heard the order told Reuters.

Another nurse said she was given a similar order by another supervisor a few days earlier.

“In a morning clinical class, the sub-head told us not to create panic…that we shouldn’t wear face masks because we were going to create a psychosis,” said the nurse, who only gave her last name, Hernandez Perez.

She has tested positive for the coronavirus and remains home. A second nurse confirmed her account to Reuters, which was unable to speak to two of the nursing supervisors who nurses said spoke at the meeting.

Doctors and hospital workers protest at Hospital number 7 of the Mexican Social Security Institute (IMSS) in Monclova, Mexico.EPA/Gustavo Rodriguez

After media reports that the hospital lacked proper equipment, IMSS chief Zoe Robledo announced in early April that the director of the hospital had been temporarily replaced.

The suspended manager, Ulises Mendoza, and the current hospital director did not answer repeated requests for comment by the outlet.

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