Respirators are an important resource in reducing the transmission of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. When workers wear respirators to protect themselves against workplace hazards, they also need to maintain source control to protect others in case they are themselves sick with COVID-19. Concerns were raised that respirators with exhalation valves may allow unfiltered exhaled air to escape into the environment, therefore not offering source control.
NIOSH is working to identify solutions to address exhalation valve concerns in both filtering facepiece respirators and elastomeric half mask respirators (EHMR). Several research studies are underway on this issue.
In parallel with the NIOSH research on exhalation valves, manufacturers have been conducting research and development to produce an elastomeric respirator that addresses the exhalation valve concerns.
To this end, NIOSH has approved the first EHMR without an exhalation valve. This respirator is approved for use with either P95 or P100 particulate filters (NIOSH approval numbers: TC-84A-9260, TC-84A-9261, TC-84A-9256, TC-84A-9257). This EHMR can be used for both personal protection and source control. Exhalation is accomplished through the particulate filters meeting all NIOSH requirements, thereby allowing it to also serve as a means of source control since it will maintain the high level of filtration upon exhalation. This EHMR can be cleaned and disinfected as part of a respiratory protection program’s standard procedures. The particulate filters are available with an integrated splash guard to improve the ease of completing a user seal check, to help protect from liquids, and to aid in wiping down the filter housing with disinfectant.
More information on NIOSH-approved respirators, including the first EHMR without an exhalation value, is available on the NIOSH Certified Equipment List.