UW Medicine is implementing a new policy for respirator use (N95, PAPR, CAPR) for healthcare workers when caring for COVID-19 patients. Beginning May 11, 2021, it will be mandatory to wear a respirator for both confirmed and suspected COVID-19 patients.
With this policy change, we are taking advantage of having a new, reliable supply of N95s, which allows us to move to broader use. Our revised policy is also aligned with regulations and guidelines from the Washington State Department of Health, Washington State Department of Labor & Industries and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
You will find more details about the policy change below. Please refer also to UW Medicine COVID-19 Precautions and Personal Protective Equipment Guidance.
Q: What is different about the new policy?
A: Respirators were previously required only for confirmed COVID-19 patients while undergoing aerosol generating procedures. They will now be required for both confirmed and suspected COVID-19 patients and at all times.
Q: Does this new policy apply to all patient care settings?
A: Yes, the new policy applies to all care settings: inpatient units, emergency departments and outpatient clinics. We will begin the rollout at Harborview Medical Center and UW Medical Center (both campuses) and UW Neighborhood Clinics on May 11. The testing sites at UWMC-Northwest and Harborview will transition to voluntary use by those involved with patient care as a pilot. Valley Medical Center will announce its implementation timeline separately.
Q: Why did we not previously require the use of respirators for all COVID-19 patients?
A: Since the start of the pandemic, our infection prevention and control teams have focused on employee and patient safety in all of their policy recommendations. In addition, they have adjusted policies regularly based on new information and resource availability. When the supply of respirators was limited, it was necessary to allow the use of procedure masks in some lower risk care settings. At the same time, we standardized other best practices for limiting disease transmission with the “UW Medicine COVID-19 Prevention and Control Bundle” and “Healthcare Worker Safety Toolkit” — including eye protection, gowns, gloves and hand washing — that enabled us to provide safe and effective care at the height of the pandemic.
Q: Why is this the right time for the new policy?
A: We recognize that there may be theoretical advantages to using respirators instead of procedural masks when caring for COVID-19 patients. We also recognize that the risk of transmission among healthcare workers and patients may increase as new variants emerge and take hold in our community.
Thanks to the outstanding work of UW Medicine’s Supply Chain, we now have a sufficient supply of respirators to use with all COVID-19 patients. In addition, we are continuing to allow the extended use of respirators to be prepared for possible supply fluctuations in the future.
Q: What should I do if I have not been fit tested for an N95?
A: Please contact your Employee Health department to arrange for fit testing. If you are not fit tested by May 11, check with your supervisor to see if your unit has a PAPR or CAPR. These respirators can be used instead of N95s under the new policy.
Thank you for your support of this new policy. Please check with your unit manager or Infection Prevention & Control if you have questions.
John Lynch, MD, MPH
Medical Director, Infection Prevention & Control
Associate Medical Director, Harborview Medical Center
Division of Allergy & Infectious Diseases, UW School of Medicine