More respirators, including certain N95 masks, will be made available to healthcare personnel, according to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The agencies have taken steps to allow certain National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) approved respirators to be used in healthcare settings during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.

Through an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA), the FDA granted the CDC’s request to use these industrial respirators during the COVID-19 outbreak, thereby increasing the number of masks available to meet the needs of the US healthcare system. “The FDA and CDC’s action to allow a wider range of respirators to be used in healthcare settings will help those on the front lines of this outbreak and their patients, which will keep all Americans safe,” said HHS Secretary Alex Azar. “We will continue pursuing every possible avenue to secure the protective gear needed for responding to the COVID-19 outbreak.”

Fears of the COVID-19 outbreak have led to consumers buying up masks, including N95s, in stores and online, potentially limiting the supply for healthcare professionals. In a tweet, US Surgeon General Jerome M. Adams, MD warned the public to stop buying masks as they were not effective in preventing illness in the general public. According to the CDC, facemasks should only be used by people who show symptoms of COVID-19, in addition to healthcare workers and people taking care of infected individuals in close settings.

“It is important to remember the best way to prevent the spread of respiratory disease is by using everyday preventive actions,” said CDC Director Robert R. Redfield, MD. “These include hand washing, using tissues to cover a cough, disinfecting frequently-touched surfaces and keeping distance from people who are coughing and sneezing.”

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Reports of outbreaks in countries outside of China, as well as cases of community spread in the US, led the CDC to issue updated guidance on evaluating and testing persons under investigation (PUI) for COVID-19. Patients who meet the following criteria should be evaluated as a PUI for COVID-19:

  • Fever or signs/symptoms of lower respiratory illness and any person, including healthcare workers, who has had close contact with a laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 patient within 14 days of symptom onset.
  • Fever and signs/symptoms of lower respiratory illness requiring hospitalization and a history of travel from affected geographic areas, within 14 days of symptom onset.
  • Fever with severe acute lower respiratory illness requiring hospitalization and without an alternative explanatory diagnosis (ie, influenza) and no identified source of exposure.

Recommendations for reporting, testing, specimen collection, and infection control can be found on the CDC website.