Face mask shortage prompts CDC to loosen coronavirus guidance

CDC has updated its recommendations regarding the face masks that front line health care workers should use to prevent infection from the novel coronavirus, or COVID-19.

CDC has updated its recommendations regarding the face masks that front line health care workers should use to prevent infection from the novel coronavirus, or COVID-19. A shortage of the specialized N95 respirators, which filter out about 95% of airborne particles, has prompted new CDC guidelines which state that "the supply chain of respirators cannot meet demand" and that looser fitting surgical face masks "are an acceptable alternative." The surgical masks will limit, but not eliminate, the likelihood of inhaling large, infectious particles circulating near the face. CDC had previously recommended that health care workers interacting with COVID-19 patients or suspected cases wear N95 respirators, as well as gowns, globes, and eye protectors. A number of unions had previously said they would oppose any changes in recommendations because emerging diseases such as COVID-19 pose an occupational hazards for workers on the front lines, particularly health care workers. "We are strongly opposed to any measures that fail to provide optimal protection and infection control standards," the groups wrote in a March 6 letter to CDC officials. "Now is the time to use every possible tool available to guarantee the highest level of protection, guided by the precautionary principle, to prevent further spread of infection, protect health care workers, and preserve our capacity to respond to a widespread outbreak." The CDC guidance noted that the changes were prompted by the shortages. The agency is advising the N95 respirators be reserved for protecting workers in the most dangerous situations, where fine aerosol is likely to be generated, such as during intubations. Additionally, the guidelines suggest that health care facilities consider alternatives to N95 masks, such as more elaborate powered air purifying respirators.