When outbreaks of infectious disease occur, we rely on healthcare professionals to care for those affected, putting themselves at increased risk of exposure to the pathogen causing the disease. While engineering and administrative controls should be the first considerations to protect these workers from this exposure, facilities should also ensure that at-risk employees are prepared to use respiratory protection, among other personal protective equipment, should the need arise.
To aid healthcare facilities experiencing shortages of N95 respirators due to high demand across the nation, CDC developed the Strategies for Optimizing the Supply of N95 Respirators in Healthcare Settings which provides options on how to optimize supplies of disposable N95 filtering facepiece respirators (commonly called “N95 respirators”) in healthcare settings when there is limited supply. CDC prioritizes respirator use for healthcare personnel in close contact with (i.e., within 6 feet of) patients with suspected or confirmed coronavirus disease (COVID-19), during aerosol generating procedures, and for infectious diseases when airborne precautions should be followed. These activities include patient assessment for triage, entering examination rooms or patient rooms to provide care or to clean and disinfect the environment, entering a patient’s home, obtaining clinical specimens, and handling soiled medical supplies or equipment.
However, preparedness is crucial during outbreaks of disease; healthcare workers who may be called to care for COVID-19 patients, should the need arise in the future, should be fit tested if possible, medically evaluated, and training should be ongoing. To aid with these preparedness efforts, here are some reminders about proper respirator selection and use.