The World Health Organization officially declared the coronavirus as a pandemic Wednesday, with the reported number of cases passing 118,000 worldwide, along with 4,200 deaths. The United States has reported more than 1,000 cases. 

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus

It’s the first pandemic since H1N1 flu pandemic of 2009. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that up to 575,000 people died worldwide, including about 12,400 deaths in the U.S., from that virus. 

“Pandemic is not a word to use lightly or carelessly. It is a word that, if misused, can cause unreasonable fear, or unjustified acceptance that the fight is over, leading to unnecessary suffering and death,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Wednesday. 

Adhanom noted that countries “can still change the course of this pandemic” by quickly detecting, testing, treating, isolating and tracing COVID-19 patients in order to prevent community transmission. 

“All countries must strike a fine balance between protecting health, minimizing economic and social disruption, and respecting human rights,” he said. 

CMS updates mask guidance

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services is allowing healthcare workers to use facemarks and a temporary alternative to respirator masks following supply shortages amid the coronavirus outbreak response. 

Specifically, face masks that protect workers from splashes and sprays and respirators that filter air can be worn by healthcare workers treating patients with, or suspected of, having the virus. 

N95 medical mask

“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,” the guidance states. 

Federal health agencies recently announced they’re making more respirators, including N95 masks, available to care providers as demand continues to rise.

The updated guidance, which was released Tuesday, also means that state surveyors won’t be required — for now — to validate the date of a facility’s last annual test of the fit of N95 worn by workers. The move was made to “minimize the discarded masks associated with such testing,” according to the agency.

“CMS has been rapidly adapting our guidance to strengthen our nation’s defense against Coronavirus, and today’s action is no exception,” CMS Administrator Seema Verma said. “We’re working to make sure the healthcare system has the equipment it needs to keep patients and healthcare workers safe.”