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Routine use of reusable respirators can help health care facilities prepare for emergencies: report

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Washington — Reusable respirators could prove a “viable option” for health care facilities’ respiratory protection programs, especially in preparation for a public health emergency, a new report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine concludes.

The report, released in December, looks at half-facepiece elastomeric respirators, which are used in many industries. Only two “health institutions,” however, are using them primarily or exclusively, according to a Dec. 6 press release from the National Academies. A majority of facilities use disposable filtering facepiece respirators, also known as N95s.

The durability of reusable respirators “make them desirable for stockpiling in case of emergencies,” including a scenario that involves a rapid or sudden influx of patients, which the report labels as “surge care.”

To prepare staff for such scenarios, the report authors suggest making use of these kinds of respirators during routine care to aid in acclimation to their use, proper cleaning and maintenance.

“A smooth transition to surge use would be expedited and enhanced if reusable elastomeric respirators were a part of a health care facility’s day-to-day respiratory protection programs,” the report states.

It also highlights challenges of the incorporation of reusable respirators. Among these are cleaning, storage and maintenance because “workers are currently accustomed to disposing of single-use respirators between patients.” Other challenges are fit testing, training and cost.

The Committee on the Use of Elastomeric Respirators in Health Care has issued three recommendations: expand research to improve respiratory protection, ensure robust respiratory protection programs and training, and harmonize standards and clarify guidelines and responsibilities.

“Urgent action is needed to resolve a number of gaps in knowledge and leadership on reusable respiratory protection to protect the health and safety of health care workers, particularly in an influenza pandemic or an epidemic of an airborne transmissible disease,” the report states.

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