April 23, 2020

CDC Publishes Strategies for Use of Elastomeric Respirators During COVID-19 Pandemic

As supplies of N95 filtering facepiece respirators run low in healthcare facilities overwhelmed by COVID-19 patients, many are turning to other respiratory protection devices. Now, CDC has published strategies facilities can use to conserve elastomeric respirators, which are at least as protective as N95 FFRs and, in some cases, have a higher assigned protection factor.

Unlike N95 and other filtering facepiece respirators, elastomeric respirators are intended to be reused and therefore must be maintained and inspected after each use. Components such as valves, valve covers, and straps need to be cleaned and disinfected.

CDC’s guidance presents suggestions for conservation of elastomeric respirators under conventional, contingency, and crisis circumstances. Conventional strategies should not be used during a pandemic, the agency says. Contingency strategies apply to emergency situations where each employee has exclusive use of an individual elastomeric respirator, while crisis strategies apply when supplies are too low to allow each healthcare worker to use a dedicated elastomeric respirator.

The CDC guidance states that during contingency and crisis conditions, filters for elastomeric respirators may be used for an extended period if the filter housing is disinfected after each interaction with a patient and the disinfectant or cleaning agent does not contact the filter media. Dipping filters in a cleaning or disinfection solution may damage the filter material or render it ineffective, CDC states.

In contingency conditions, elastomeric respirators must be cleaned as often as necessary to remain unsoiled and sanitary. Cleaning instructions are provided by the respirator manufacturer. The CDC guidance contains general information on cleaning and disinfection.

For managing respirator supplies during a crisis, CDC recommends sharing elastomeric respirators and waiving requirements for fit testing.