CMS issues protective mask guidance for healthcare workers

March 12, 2020

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) has expanded the types of facemasks healthcare workers may wear when caring for patients with respiratory infections, such as the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

In a statement, CMS officials said they sent a memorandum to state survey agencies (SAs), which are responsible for inspecting nursing homes and other healthcare facilities serving Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries.

To help reduce burden on healthcare facilities, the CMS memo implements guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) by stating that facemasks, which protect the wearer from splashes and sprays, are an acceptable temporary alternative to respirators, which filter the air, for most medical services until demand for respirators lessens.

The goal is to ensure maximum supply of facemasks and respirators are available to enable healthcare providers to safely treat patients without exposing themselves or others to COVID-19.

As a result of an updated CDC guidance on allowable facemasks and respirators, CMS is also alerting state surveyors that they are not required – on a temporary basis – to validate the date of a facility’s last annual test of the fit of N95 masks worn by workers in Medicare- and Medicaid-certified facilities.

The CMS action follows the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) approval of an emergency use authorization (EUA) to allow healthcare workers to use certain industrial respirators during the COVID-19 outbreak in healthcare settings. The FDA concluded that respirators approved by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), but not currently meeting the FDA’s requirements, may be effective in preventing healthcare workers from airborne exposure to serious or life-threatening disease, including COVID-19.

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