Face masks are an “acceptable temporary alternative” when respirators are in short supply due to the coronavirus pandemic, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

In the meantime, care providers should prioritize the use of respirators, which provide greater protection, for procedures likely to generate respiratory droplets and increase the risk of exposure, the agency stated in a memorandum released this week. 

In addition, state surveyors won’t be required — for now — to validate the date of a facility’s last annual fit-tests of N95 respirators worn by workers. The move was made to “minimize the discarded masks associated with such testing,” according to the agency.

Federal health agencies have also announced that they’re making more respirators, including N95 masks, available to care providers as demand continues to rise. Once the supply chain is restored, facilities with a respiratory protection program should return to using respirators when caring for patients with known or suspected COVID-19, CMS said. 

The CDC has posted additional guidance on the use of personal protective equipment while caring for individuals with suspected or confirmed COVID-19.