National Nurses United today rebuked new federal guidance encouraging hospitals and other health systems to allow multiple reuse and/or decontamination of N95 respiratory masks that nurses say will put thousands of health care workers at grave risk.
Guidance last week from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), provided healthcare employers a green light for those practices, under the pretext of a shortage of the masks.
The CDC recommendation was promptly embraced by OSHA which handed assurance to employers that they won’t be cited for violating respiratory protection rules if they reuse N95 respirators or take other measures as long as they adhere to CDC guidance.
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“In the midst of the worst global pandemic in a century, and growing numbers of nurses and other healthcare workers becoming, infected, relying on ventilators to breathe, and dying, the message from the federal government could not send a worse message,” said NNU Executive Director Bonnie Castillo, RN.
There is no validated, scientific evidence that multiple re-use or decontamination of N95 respiratory masks is safe, and will protect a health care worker from being infected when exposed to a patient with the virus, says NNU.
To date, at least 15 registered nurses in the U.S. have died of COVID-19, according to reports NNU has surveyed. The total number of deaths and infections of all health care workers have not been tallied but is certainly in the thousands, given global trends. According to the University of Washington's Center for Health Workforce Studies, the projected number of RN infected cases and deaths in the U.S. is in the range of "400,000 positive cases and 6,809 to 19,125 deaths" and it projects up to 2.5 million health care worker infections and 120,000 deaths.
“Instead of relaxing protective standards that will lead to further decimation of the frontline caregiver workforce, leave fewer nurses at the bedside to care for patients, and prolong the crisis,” Castillo said, “the federal government should expand mass production and distribution of the only proven effective protective equipment – single use N95 respirator masks or re-usable powered air purifying respirators (PAPRs).”
In a letter Friday to the CDC and NIOSH (available upon request), Castillo warned that the agencies’ new guidance on decontaminating and reusing N95 filtering facepiece respirators “endangers nurses’ lives” at a time when “many employers have turned to decontaminating and reusing disposable N95 filtering facepiece respirators multiple times and for multiple shifts.”