Infection Control: Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2)

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Background

This interim guidance has been updated based on currently available information about COVID-19 and the current situation in the United States, which includes reports of cases of community transmission, infections identified in healthcare personnel (HCP), and shortages of facemasks, N95 filtering facepiece respirators (FFRs) (commonly known as N95 respirators), and gowns. Here is what is currently known:

This guidance is applicable to all U.S. healthcare settings. This guidance is not intended for non-healthcare settings (e.g., schools) OR for persons outside of healthcare settings. For recommendations regarding clinical management, air or ground medical transport, or laboratory settings, refer to the main CDC COVID-19 website.

Mode of transmission: Early reports suggest person-to-person transmission most commonly happens during close exposure to a person infected with COVID-19, primarily via respiratory droplets produced when the infected person coughs or sneezes. Droplets can land in the mouths, noses, or eyes of people who are nearby or possibly be inhaled into the lungs of those within close proximity. The contribution of small respirable particles, sometimes called aerosols or droplet nuclei, to close proximity transmission is currently uncertain. However, airborne transmission from person-to-person over long distances is unlikely.

Shortage of personal protective equipment: Controlling exposures to occupational infections is a fundamental method of protecting HCP. Traditionally, a hierarchy of controls has been used as a means of determining how to implement feasible and effective control solutions. The hierarchy ranks controls according to their reliability and effectiveness and includes such controls as engineering controls, administrative controls, and ends with personal protective equipment (PPE). PPE is the least effective control because it involves a high level of worker involvement and is highly dependent on proper fit and correct, consistent use.

Major distributors in the United States have reported shortages of PPE, specifically N95 respirators, facemasks, and gowns. Healthcare facilities are responsible for protecting their HCP from exposure to pathogens, including by providing appropriate PPE.

In times of shortages, alternatives to N95s should be considered, including other classes of FFRs, elastomeric half-mask and full facepiece air purifying respirators, and powered air purifying respirators (PAPRs) where feasible. Special care should be taken to ensure that respirators are reserved for situations where respiratory protection is most important, such as performance of aerosol-generating procedures on suspected or confirmed COVID-19 patients or provision of care to patients with other infections for which respiratory protection is strongly indicated (e.g., tuberculosis, measles, varicella).

The anticipated timeline for return to routine levels of PPE is not yet known. Information about strategies to optimize the current supply of N95 respirators, including the use of devices that provide higher levels of respiratory protection (e.g., powered air purifying respirators [PAPRs]) when N95s are in limited supply and a companion checklist to help healthcare facilities prioritize the implementation of the strategies, is available.

Capacity across the healthcare continuum: Use of N95 or higher-level respirators are recommended for HCP who have been medically cleared, trained, and fit-tested, in the context of a facility’s respiratory protection programexternal icon. The majority of nursing homes and outpatient clinics, including hemodialysis facilities, do not have respiratory protection programs nor have they fit-tested HCP, hampering implementation of recommendations in the previous version of this guidance. This can lead to unnecessary transfer of patients with known or suspected COVID-19 to another facility (e.g., acute care hospital) for evaluation and care. In areas with community transmission, acute care facilities will be quickly overwhelmed by transfers of patients who have only mild illness and do not require hospitalization.

Many of the recommendations described in this guidance (e.g., triage procedures, source control) should already be part of an infection control program designed to prevent transmission of seasonal respiratory infections. As it will be challenging to distinguish COVID-19 from other respiratory infections, interventions will need to be applied broadly and not limited to patients with confirmed COVID-19.

This guidance is applicable to all U.S. healthcare settings. This guidance is not intended for non-healthcare settings (e.g., schools) OR for persons outside of healthcare settings. For recommendations regarding clinical management, air or ground medical transport, or laboratory settings, refer to the main CDC COVID-19 website.

Definition of Healthcare Personnel (HCP) –For the purposes of this document, HCP refers to all paid and unpaid persons serving in healthcare settings who have the potential for direct or indirect exposure to patients or infectious materials, including body substances; contaminated medical supplies, devices, and equipment; contaminated environmental surfaces; or contaminated air.

Recommendations

1. Minimize Chance for Exposures

Ensure facility policies and practices are in place to minimize exposures to respiratory pathogens including SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. Measures should be implemented before patient arrival, upon arrival, throughout the duration of the patient’s visit, and until the patient’s room is cleaned and disinfected. It is particularly important to protect individuals at increased risk for adverse outcomes from COVID-19 (e.g. older individuals with comorbid conditions), including HCP who are in a recognized risk category.

  • Before Arrival
  • Upon Arrival and During the Visit
    • Consider limiting points of entry to the facility.
    • Take steps to ensure all persons with symptoms of COVID-19 or other respiratory infection (e.g., fever, cough) adhere to respiratory hygiene and cough etiquette (see appendix), hand hygiene, and triage procedures throughout the duration of the visit.
      • Post visual alertspdf icon (e.g., signs, posters) at the entrance and in strategic places (e.g., waiting areas, elevators, cafeterias) to provide patients and HCP with instructions (in appropriate languages) about hand hygiene, respiratory hygiene, and cough etiquette. Instructions should include how to use tissues to cover nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing, to dispose of tissues and contaminated items in waste receptacles, and how and when to perform hand hygiene.
      • Provide supplies for respiratory hygiene and cough etiquette, including alcohol-based hand rub (ABHR) with 60-95% alcohol, tissues, and no-touch receptacles for disposal, at healthcare facility entrances, waiting rooms, and patient check-ins.
      • Install physical barriers (e.g., glass or plastic windows) at reception areas to limit close contact between triage personnel and potentially infectious patients.
      • Consider establishing triage stations outside the facility to screen patients before they enter.
    • Ensure rapid safe triage and isolation of patients with symptoms of suspected COVID-19 or other respiratory infection (e.g., fever, cough).
      • Prioritize triage of patients with respiratory symptoms.
      • Triage personnel should have a supply of facemasks and tissues for patients with symptoms of respiratory infection. These should be provided to patients with symptoms of respiratory infection at check-in. Source control (putting a facemask over the mouth and nose of a symptomatic patient) can help to prevent transmission to others.
      • Ensure that, at the time of patient check-in, all patients are asked about the presence of symptoms of a respiratory infection and history of travel to areas experiencing transmission of COVID-19 or contact with possible COVID-19 patients.
      • Isolate the patient in an examination room with the door closed. If an examination room is not readily available ensure the patient is not allowed to wait among other patients seeking care.
        • Identify a separate, well-ventilated space that allows waiting patients to be separated by 6 or more feet, with easy access to respiratory hygiene supplies.
        • In some settings, patients might opt to wait in a personal vehicle or outside the healthcare facility where they can be contacted by mobile phone when it is their turn to be evaluated.
    • Incorporate questions about new onset of respiratory symptoms into daily assessments of all admitted patients. Monitor for and evaluate all new fevers and respiratory illnesses among patients. Place any patient with unexplained fever or respiratory symptoms on appropriate Transmission-Based Precautions and evaluate.

Additional considerations during periods of community transmission:

    • Explore alternatives to face-to-face triage and visits.
    • Learn more about how healthcare facilities can Prepare for Community Transmission
    • Designate an area at the facility (e.g., an ancillary building or temporary structure) or identify a location in the area to be a “respiratory virus evaluation center” where patients with fever or respiratory symptoms can seek evaluation and care.
    • Cancel group healthcare activities (e.g., group therapy, recreational activities).
    • Postpone elective procedures, surgeries, and non-urgent outpatient visits.

2. Adhere to Standard and Transmission-Based Precautions

Standard Precautions assume that every person is potentially infected or colonized with a pathogen that could be transmitted in the healthcare setting. Elements of Standard Precautions that apply to patients with respiratory infections, including COVID-19, are summarized below. Attention should be paid to training and proper donning (putting on), doffing (taking off), and disposal of any PPE. This document does not emphasize all aspects of Standard Precautions (e.g., injection safety) that are required for all patient care; the full description is provided in the Guideline for Isolation Precautions: Preventing Transmission of Infectious Agents in Healthcare Settings.

HCP (see Section 5 for measures for non-HCP visitors) who enter the room of a patient with known or suspected COVID-19 should adhere to Standard Precautions and use a respirator or facemask, gown, gloves, and eye protection. When available, respirators (instead of facemasks) are preferred; they should be prioritized for situations where respiratory protection is most important and the care of patients with pathogens requiring Airborne Precautions (e.g., tuberculosis, measles, varicella). Information about the recommended duration of Transmission-Based Precautions is available in the Interim Guidance for Discontinuation of Transmission-Based Precautions and Disposition of Hospitalized Patients with COVID-19

  • Hand Hygiene
    • HCP should perform hand hygiene before and after all patient contact, contact with potentially infectious material, and before putting on and after removing PPE, including gloves. Hand hygiene after removing PPE is particularly important to remove any pathogens that might have been transferred to bare hands during the removal process.
    • HCP should perform hand hygiene by using ABHR with 60-95% alcohol or washing hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If hands are visibly soiled, use soap and water before returning to ABHR.
    • Healthcare facilities should ensure that hand hygiene supplies are readily available to all personnel in every care location.
  • Personal Protective Equipment
    Employers should select appropriate PPE and provide it to HCP in accordance with OSHA PPE standards (29 CFR 1910 Subpart I)external icon. HCP must receive training on and demonstrate an understanding of:
  • when to use PPE
  • what PPE is necessary
  • how to properly don, use, and doff PPE in a manner to prevent self-contamination
  • how to properly dispose of or disinfect and maintain PPE
  • the limitations of PPE.

Any reusable PPE must be properly cleaned, decontaminated, and maintained after and between uses. Facilities should have policies and procedures describing a recommended sequence for safely donning and doffing PPE. The PPE recommended when caring for a patient with known or suspected COVID-19 includes:

  • Respirator or Facemask
    • Put on a respirator or facemask (if a respirator is not available) before entry into the patient room or care area.
    • N95 respirators or respirators that offer a higher level of protection should be used instead of a facemask when performing or present for an aerosol-generating procedure (See Section 4). See appendix for respirator definition. Disposable respirators and facemasks should be removed and discarded after exiting the patient’s room or care area and closing the door. Perform hand hygiene after discarding the respirator or facemask. For guidance on extended use of respirators, refer to Strategies to Optimize the Current Supply of N95 Respirators
      • If reusable respirators (e.g., powered air purifying respirators [PAPRs]) are used, they must be cleaned and disinfected according to manufacturer’s reprocessing instructions prior to re-use.
    • When the supply chain is restored, facilities with a respiratory protection program should return to use of respirators for patients with known or suspected COVID-19. Those that do not currently have a respiratory protection program, but care for patients with pathogens for which a respirator is recommended, should implement a respiratory protection program.
  • Eye Protection
    • Put on eye protection (i.e., goggles or a disposable face shield that covers the front and sides of the face) upon entry to the patient room or care area. Personal eyeglasses and contact lenses are NOT considered adequate eye protection.
    • Remove eye protection before leaving the patient room or care area.
    • Reusable eye protection (e.g., goggles) must be cleaned and disinfected according to manufacturer’s reprocessing instructions prior to re-use. Disposable eye protection should be discarded after use.
  • Gloves
    • Put on clean, non-sterile gloves upon entry into the patient room or care area.
      • Change gloves if they become torn or heavily contaminated.
    • Remove and discard gloves when leaving the patient room or care area, and immediately perform hand hygiene.
  • Gowns
    • Put on a clean isolation gown upon entry into the patient room or…

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