New OSHA FAQs About Face Coverings, Surgical Masks and Respirators in the Workplace

June 15, 2020
OSHA has published a series of frequently asked questions and answers regarding the use of masks in the workplace.
"As our economy reopens for business, millions of Americans will be wearing masks in their workplace for the first time," said Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Occupational Safety and Health Loren Sweatt. "OSHA is ready to help workers and employers understand how to properly use masks so they can stay safe and healthy in the workplace."
The new guidance outlines the differences between cloth face coverings, surgical masks and respirators. It further reminds employers not to use surgical masks or cloth face coverings when respirators are needed. In addition, the guidance notes the need for social distancing measures, even when workers are wearing cloth face coverings, and recommends following the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's guidance on washing face coverings.
These frequently asked questions and answers mark the latest guidance from OSHA addressing protective measures for workplaces during the coronavirus pandemic. Previously, OSHA published numerous guidance documents for workers and employers, available at, including five guidance documents aimed at expanding the availability of respirators.
Additional information and resources about the coronavirus disease is available on OSHA's coronavirus webpage.
Environmental Resource Center Update
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we have combined our Safety and Environmental Tips of the week. This issue includes some of the latest recommendations for you to keep safe at work and at home in this evolving event.
The health and wellbeing of our employees, customers and our communities is what matters most to all of us. To continue to serve you, our seminars have been converted to live online webcasts. You can find a list of upcoming live webcasts at this link.
If you have enrolled in a seminar in June, in many cases the seminar will be held on approximately the same dates and at the same times via online webcast. We will contact you by phone or email regarding the details on how to attend the class. On-site training and consulting services are proceeding as usual. If you wish to convert these to remote services, please call your Environmental Resource Center representative or customer service at 800-537-2372.
Because many of our live and on-site training sessions have been postponed or canceled, we have staff available to assist you in coping with COVID-19 as well as your routine EHS requirements. If you have EHS staff that have been quarantined, we can provide remote assistance to help you meet your ongoing environmental and safety compliance requirements. For details, call 800-537-2372.
Get Ready for Hazardous Weather Events
With June marking the start of hurricane season in the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico, the EPA recently reminded facility operators of requirements for preventing, minimizing and reporting chemical releases. Facility operators are obligated to maintain safety, minimize releases that do occur, and report chemical or oil releases and discharges in a timely manner, as required under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act and/or the emergency planning provisions of the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act and/or the National Oil and Hazardous Substances Pollution Contingency Plan.
“The people of Texas and Louisiana know that with the environmental, economic, and recreational benefits of the Gulf Coast also comes the responsibility of preparing for hurricanes and other hazardous weather,” said Regional Administrator Ken McQueen. “As with every hurricane season, EPA encourages coastal businesses to prepare their facilities and employees for whatever the weather might bring.”
Unlike some natural disasters, hurricanes and tropical storms are predictable and usually allow facilities to prepare for potential impacts. EPA reminds operators of some basic steps to prepare for hazardous weather:
  • Review procedures for shutting down processes and securing facilities appropriately—especially hazardous chemical storage—or otherwise implement appropriate safe operating procedures.
  • Review updated state-federal guidelines for flooding preparedness, available here.
  • Assure all employees are familiar with requirements and procedures to contact the National Response Center in case a spill or release occurs.
  • Review local response contacts, including Local Emergency Planning Committees (LEPCs) and State Emergency Response Centers (SERCs). A list of these contacts by state is available here.
Prevention and reporting requirements for facilities are available at
In the event of a hazardous weather incident, go to for updated emergency information.
Hazardous Waste TSDF to Pay $2.2 Million to Settle State Violations
A hazardous waste facility in Tacoma, Washington has agreed to settle $2.2 million in penalties issued in 2019 by the Washington Department of Ecology. The facility, formerly owned by Stericycle, has since changed ownership and is now a Clean Earth company. It is one of two commercial businesses in the state that collect, manage and dispose of hazardous waste generated by households, industries and businesses.
In 2018, a warehouse fire erupted at the tideflats facility after the company mismanaged its hazardous waste. That fire and other compliance issues at the same location led to the penalty, which the company appealed in late 2019. The settlement agreement effectively ends the appeal process.
“It’s unacceptable for any business to put its workers, the public and the environment in serious danger,” said Ecology Director Laura Watson. “The company must meet all training and operational commitments in the settlement to ensure that this doesn’t happen again.”
According to the settlement’s terms, the company has agreed to pay the amount in full and the current operator will comply with new permit modifications that Ecology included to help prevent further violations. These permit changes – such as requiring management to certify crucial tests done while processing wastes and ensuring employees have the training they need to work safely – will help the company do a better job evaluating dangerous wastes before they arrive at the facility.
“It is important to point out that these violations occurred almost two years prior to our ownership of the facility and run contrary to our vision, mission and shared values,” said Averil Rance, Clean Earth’s Senior Vice President of Environmental Health and Safety. “We are confident that, since our acquisition two months ago, the facility has put in place robust compliance, governance, safety and environmental procedures to prevent another unfortunate incident from taking place.”
In July 2018, several drums of tetrazole (a hazardous powdered chemical used in vehicle airbags) caught fire as it was being processed. Had it not ignited at the facility, the highly reactive tetrazole waste would have been shipped through communities by rail. After the fire, inspectors discovered that the company failed to properly designate and manage the waste and residue left by the fire. Later that year, another fire in the facility’s shredder ignited after the company allowed containers with leftover liquid chemicals to mix. Ecology inspectors had issued a compliance letter to the company in 2017 specifically warning against allowing liquids to enter the shredder. Fortunately, no employees were harmed in either incident, however there was concern about potentially sensitive populations downwind of the fire being adversely affected.
By settling the case, the state avoids costly future litigation and can use the penalty funds to further enhance Ecology’s work.
Free Amazon HD 10 Tablet with RCRA and DOT Training
Annual training is required by 40 CFR 262.17(a)(7). Learn how to manage your hazardous waste in accordance with the latest state and federal regulations. Learn how to complete EPA’s new electronic hazardous waste manifest, and the more than 60 changes in EPA’s new Hazardous Waste Generator Improvements Rule. Environmental Resource Center’s Hazardous Waste Training is available via live webcasts. If you plan to also attend DOT hazardous materials training, call 800-537-2372 to find out how you can get your course materials on an Amazon Fire HD 10 tablet at no extra charge.
Comoto Holdings to Pay $1.93 Million For Selling Uncertified Motorcycle Parts in California
The California Air Resources Board announced that Comoto Holdings, Inc. has agreed to pay $1,937,500 to resolve alleged violations related to the sale of non-exempted add-on or modified motorcycle parts in California.
Comoto Holdings is the parent company of Revzilla Motorsports, LLC and Cycle Gear, Inc., which cater to motorcycle enthusiasts. Comoto and Revzilla Motorsports, LLC are headquartered in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Cycle Gear is based in Benicia, California.
“We take the sale of uncertified parts seriously as it can lead to significantly higher emissions that impact the health of California residents,” said CARB Executive Officer Richard Corey. “It is also unfair to the vast majority of manufacturers who comply with clean air requirements.”
Retailers and distributors must ensure the parts they sell have been evaluated by CARB prior to sale and proven not to reduce the effectiveness of the emission control system. Such parts replace or modify vital original equipment emissions components and manufacturer-designed engine-operating conditions. Modifications to the engine and emissions control systems of motorcycles can lead to significantly higher smog-forming emissions and adversely affect public health.
CARB found that Comoto’s subsidiaries advertised, sold, and offered for sale, add-on or modified motorcycle parts without legal exemptions to California’s anti-tampering laws. CARB also rejected the assertion—often made by parts manufacturers and retailers—that all the subject parts were sold for “race use” and therefore exempt from anti-tampering laws.
The company has agreed to comply with all applicable regulations and will pay a total settlement of $1,937,500. Half of the funds will benefit two Supplemental Environmental Projects: $615,598 will be paid to the Coachella Valley Mitigation Project Extension 2018 – 2023; and $353,151 to the Placer County Community Based Supplemental Environmental Project – Phase 2. Both projects will use these funds to install and maintain high-performance air filtration systems in schools located in communities impacted by air pollution. The remaining $968,750 will be deposited into the California Air Pollution Control Fund.
Modified motorcycles that no longer meet California's emission requirements pose a significant health threat to California residents. They create higher amounts of smog-forming pollutants, which can then exacerbate respiratory ailments and negatively affect other health conditions.
Unregistered Covid Cures Ordered Off Online Marketplaces
EPA ordered Amazon Services LLC and eBay Inc. to stop selling a wide range of pesticide products. These products are unregistered, misbranded, or restricted-use pesticides, and pesticide devices that make false or misleading claims. As two of the largest e-commerce marketplaces, both companies oversee millions of product listings, thru either direct or third-party sales. The products subject to EPA’s orders also include several products that are marketed with false or misleading claims of efficacy against the novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, the cause of COVID-19.
EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said, “we remain vigilant against the claims of producers that falsely assert their efficacy and safety. Of particular concern are products that falsely claim to be effective against COVID-19. It is our duty to continue transparent communication with the public on unregistered products that may cause injury to consumers, and immediately remove them from commerce.”
“American consumers need to know that the pesticide products they purchase online are effective and safe for their use,” said EPA Assistant Administrator for Enforcement and Compliance Assurance Susan Bodine. “The orders we are issuing are two examples of EPA’s continuing commitment to stop unlawful sales of unregistered, mislabeled and restricted use pesticides on retail websites.”
“The proliferation of unregistered pesticides in the e-commerce marketplace, especially during this unprecedented time, poses a significant and immediate health risk to consumers, children, pets, and others exposed to the products,” said EPA Region 10 Administrator Chris Hladick.
EPA’s action prohibits Amazon and eBay from distributing, selling, or offering for sale the products listed on the tables attached to the stop sale orders.
None of the pesticides in the Amazon order are registered with EPA – which is a requirement for sale in the U.S. – and thus did not undergo a rigorous scientific process to ensure effectiveness and safety. Products that have been properly registered bear EPA-approved labeling evaluated to protect users by giving important information on safety and use.
In addition to unregistered pesticides, the eBay order includes pesticides classified for restricted use. It is unlawful to sell these types of products to the general public because they have the potential to cause injury to human health and the environment without additional restrictions.
In its orders, EPA also notes that the labeling of some of the unregistered or misbranded pesticides and pesticide devices includes the following violative statements:
  • “Kills COVID-19”
  • “Complete sterilization including the current pandemic virus”
  • “Coronavirus disinfectant”
  • “2020 Coronavirus Protection Coronavirus Protection Clearance Sale”
  • “A Powerful, Green, Non-Toxic Solution Proven to Inactivate our current viral strain”
  • “Epidemic Prevention”
  • “Efficient disinfection to prevent the spread of disease”
  • “Help keep your family and those you care for healthy”
  • “Nontoxic causes no permanent injuries”
  • “Ingredients are biodegradable and have no harmful impact on the environment”
  • “There is no damage to the environment”
  • “You can easily purify the living environment”
  • “Safe for all people using”
  • “Gentle to Child & Pets”
  • “Chemical Free”
The devices listed on the tables attached to the orders also lack EPA establishment numbers from where the products were produced.
A particularly egregious example of the products containing Chlorine Dioxide. There are several varieties of this product with very little to no English-language instructions. The products are being sold with unprovable claims of sanitizing and disinfecting hospitals, offices and homes.
Product listings on included 55-gallon drums of Methylene Chloride that were marketed for use as a coronavirus disinfectant and paint stripper. Not only is Methylene Chloride unapproved for use against the novel coronavirus, under the Toxic Substances Control Act, EPA banned the retail sale of Methylene Chloride to consumers for paint removal purposes due to acute fatalities that resulted from exposure to the chemical.
Another product, Virus Shut Out, claimed to be a spatial disinfection card that would provide coronavirus protection to the wearer. Virus Shut Out was subject to previous enforcement by EPA. Yet another product, Xtreme-Bio, claimed to be exempt from EPA regulation and made entirely with “clean, green, safe, environmentally friendly ingredients” while also claiming to deactivate the virus causing COVID-19.
The stop sale orders are critical to protecting human health and the environment during the from misleading and harmful product claims during the COVID-19 public health emergency.
To view the Amazon Services LLC stop sale order, please visit: To view the eBay Inc. stop sale order, please visit:
EPA’s advisory on “What You Need to Know Regarding Products Making Claims to Kill the Coronavirus1 Causing COVID-19” may be found here:
$92,000 Fine for Incorrect Label Hazard Statement on Pesticide
EPA announced a settlement with pesticide distributor CH2O of Tumwater resolving alleged violations of the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA). Under the terms of a recent Consent Agreement and Final Order, CH2O will pay a civil penalty of $92,900 to resolve the alleged violations. CH2O is a specialty water treatment company serving public institutions, industries, and agriculture with water treatment chemicals and technologies.
“Pesticide labeling laws ensure that consumers have clear and current information about products and how to safely use them,” said Lauris Davies, Acting Director of EPA’s Enforcement and Compliance Assurance Division in Seattle. “Companies who register, formulate or distribute registered pesticides, fungicides or rodenticides must ensure that all containers or packaging bear the most recent EPA-approved labeling.”
During a routine FIFRA compliance inspection conducted at CH2O’s facility in May 2018, EPA inspectors became aware of a discrepancy in the labeling of a product called PACT-5  an industrial pesticide used to control algae, bacteria and fungi in cooling towers, cooling water and fuels. The product’s label featured the wrong signal word: “CAUTION” in place of the required “DANGER.” Under the federal pesticide law, “CAUTION” represents the lowest toxicity ranking for pesticides, whereas “DANGER” signifies the highest hazard. Label completeness and accuracy are two important safeguards for both consumers and professionals when handling and applying pesticides.
Precautionary statements provide pesticide users with critically important information, including product toxicity and steps to reduce potential for exposure. When FIFRA-regulated manufacturers, formulators or distributors fail to include accurate and complete information on a pesticide label, users can be not only misinformed, but also at greater risk of exposure to potential health hazards.
EPA’s review of the information collected identified additional PACT-5  label violations. In all, EPA’s settlement with CH2O documented 13 counts of sale and distribution of misbranded PACT-5.
FIFRA registration and labeling requirements protect human health and the environment by ensuring pesticides in the marketplace are tested and safe to use. Registering a pesticide for use is a comprehensive scientific, legal, and administrative procedure that EPA administers.
New Jersey Framing Contractor Fined $1.9 Million Fine for Exposing Workers to Safety Hazards
OSHA has proposed penalties against BB Frame LLC – operating as Frame Q and as Juan Quevedo (the owner and principal) – for exposing workers to multiple safety hazards at four Bergen County, New Jersey, worksites. OSHA conducted five investigations beginning in December 2019 of the Palisades Park, New Jersey, framing contractor and is proposing $1,997,125 in penalties.
In February 2019, the Department of Justice (DOJ) had filed a lawsuit alleging Frame Q failed to pay the Department of the Treasury over $678,053 in civil penalties and delinquency fees. OSHA had levied the underlying fines between 2013 and 2017 for dozens of violations, including lack of fall protection and ladder safety. Shortly after the DOJ filed suit, Quevedo dissolved Frame Q LLC, but continued doing business as Frame Q while using the BB Frame corporate entity.
In December 2019, OSHA conducted a complaint investigation at a worksite in Cliffside Park, New Jersey, and cited the company for nine safety violations and a $520,860 proposed penalty. OSHA conducted another investigation in Fort Lee, New Jersey, and cited the company for five citations with a proposed penalty of $426,785.
In January 2020, as part of OSHA's local emphasis program for fall hazards, the agency opened an investigation at a different location in Cliffside Park. It resulted in five safety citations with a $405,588 proposed penalty.
OSHA completed two additional investigations in February 2020 at a Palisades Park, New Jersey, site. The agency initiated one as part of the local emphasis program for fall hazards, and issued three citations with a proposed penalty of $274,892. The other investigation, initiated in response to a complaint, resulted in eight violations and a $369,000 proposed penalty.
"This employer's extensive history of egregious disregard for the safety of workers will not be tolerated," said OSHA Regional Administrator Richard Mendelson, in New York. "Employers are required by law to provide workers with safe and healthful workplaces."
"Worker safety should be an employer's top priority every day," said OSHA Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Loren Sweatt. "OSHA has extensive resources to assist employers with providing a workplace free from recognized hazards and complying with occupational safety and health standards."
The company has 15 business days from receipt of the citations (view the citations here, here, here, here, and here) and proposed penalties to comply, request an informal conference with OSHA's area director or contest the findings before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.
Roofing Contractor Fined After Employee Suffers Fatal Fall at Alabama Worksite
OSHA has cited roofing contractor Elmer Julio Perez – operating as Julio Perez – for failing to protect employees from fall hazards after a worker fatally fell from a residential roof at a Mobile, Alabama, worksite. The company faces $138,118 in penalties.
OSHA cited the employer for failing to ensure that employees used fall protection, and report a hospitalization within 24 hours and a fatality within 8 hours, as required. The agency has established a Regional Emphasis Program on Falls in Construction to reduce exposure to fall hazards in construction.
“Allowing employees to work at heights without using proper fall protection methods increases the risk of serious or fatal injuries,” said OSHA Mobile Area Director Jose Gonzalez. “Employers have an obligation to ensure the working conditions are free of hazards.”
OSHA’s Fall Protection in Construction booklet provides information on regulatory standards, including conventional fall protection systems, fall restraints, and training. The Fall Protection webpage offers extensive reference materials to help employers and workers recognize and prevent fall hazards.
Tons of Microplastics Pollute National Parks
Delivered like dust by the wind and rain, researchers estimate that more than 1,000 tons of plastic microparticles - roughly the equivalent of 120-300 million plastic water bottles - falls upon National Parks and protected wilderness areas in the western United States each year. The results show that atmospheric transport is an important mechanism in the global distribution of microplastic pollution, including to remote locations, and they underscore the importance of reducing pollution from such materials, which here were small enough to accumulate in lung tissue.
Though microplastics are found nearly everywhere on Earth, the sources and processes behind their ubiquitous distribution, or the "global plastic cycle," remain vaguely understood. Initially overlooked, recent studies have suggested that long-range atmospheric transport plays an important role in carrying microplastic pollution vast distances and to remote locations. Interested in its reach to conservation locations, Janice Brahney and colleagues evaluated the transport and accumulation of microplastics in eleven remote and protected areas across the western U.S.
By comparing the size and shape of the particles deposited during wet and dry weather, Brahney et al. were able to identify atmospheric transport processes and deposition patterns, including that plastics deposited dry were smaller in size and traveled farther, "reminiscent of the global dust cycle but distinctly human in origin." The authors suggest that sensitive mountain ecosystems with simple food webs and shallow soils could be particularly sensitive to microplastic deposition. "A key insight from the new work is that fundamental tools for studying global dust transport can be applied to microplastics. Like dust, most particles measured were within the size range typical of global transport," write Chelsea Rochman and Timothy Hoellein in a related Perspective. "However, microplastics are less dense than soil and therefore might travel longer distances than natural dust particles."
EHS Hour - Keep Up-to-Date and Learn Something New
Even though you might not be able to get to the office or attend meetings, you can still keep up with the latest EHS requirements and learn something new. Environmental Resource Center is introducing the EHS Hour as live, online sessions to help keep you informed and productive.
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Engineers Find Neat Way to Turn Waste Carbon Dioxide Into Useful Materials
The technology to convert carbon dioxide into industrial precursor chemicals could be retrofitted to coal-fired power plants.
Chemical engineers from UNSW Sydney have developed new technology that helps convert harmful carbon dioxide emissions into chemical building blocks to make useful industrial products like fuel and plastics.
And if adopted on a large scale, the process could give the world breathing space as it transitions towards a green economy.
In a paper published in the journal Advanced Energy Materials, Dr Rahman Daiyan and Dr Emma Lovell from UNSW’s School of Chemical Engineering detail a way of creating nanoparticles that promote conversion of waste carbon dioxide into useful industrial components.
The researchers, who carried out their work in the Particles and Catalysis Research Laboratory led by Scientia Professor Rose Amal, show that by making zinc oxide at very high temperatures using a technique called flame spray pyrolysis (FSP), they can create nanoparticles which act as the catalyst for turning carbon dioxide into ‘syngas’ – a mix of hydrogen and carbon monoxide used in the manufacture of industrial products. The researchers say this method is cheaper and more scalable to the requirements of heavy industry than what is available today.
“We used an open flame, which burns at 2000 degrees, to create nanoparticles of zinc oxide that can then be used to convert CO2, using electricity, into syngas,” says Dr Lovell.
“Syngas is often considered the chemical equivalent of Lego because the two building blocks – hydrogen and carbon monoxide – can be used in different ratios to make things like synthetic diesel, methanol, alcohol or plastics, which are very important industrial precursors.
“So essentially what we’re doing is converting CO2 into these precursors that can be used to make all these vital industrial chemicals.”
In an industrial setting, an electrolyser containing the FSP-produced zinc oxide particles could be used to convert the waste CO2 into useful permutations of syngas, says Dr Daiyan. “Waste CO2 from say, a power plant or cement factory, can be passed through this electrolyser, and inside we have our flame-sprayed zinc oxide material in the form of an electrode. When we pass the waste CO2 in, it is processed using electricity and is released from an outlet as syngas in a mix of CO and hydrogen,” he says.
The researchers say in effect, they are closing the carbon loop in industrial processes that create harmful greenhouse gases. And by making small adjustments to the way the nanoparticles are burned by the FSP technique, they can determine the eventual mix of the syngas building blocks produced by the carbon dioxide conversion.
“At the moment you generate syngas by using natural gas – so from fossil fuels,” Dr Daiyan says. “But we’re using waste carbon dioxide and then converting it to syngas in a ratio depending on which industry you want to use it in.”
For example, a one to one ratio between the carbon monoxide and hydrogen lends itself to syngas that can be used as fuel. But a ratio of four parts carbon monoxide and one part hydrogen is suitable for the creation of plastics, Dr Daiyan said.
In choosing zinc oxide as their catalyst, the researchers have ensured that their solution has remained a cheaper alternative to what has been previously attempted in this space.
“Past attempts have used expensive materials such as palladium, but this is the first instance where a very cheap and abundant material, mined locally in Australia, has been successfully applied to the problem of waste carbon dioxide conversion,” Dr Daiyan said.
Dr Lovell added that what also makes this method appealing is using the FSP flame system to create and control these valuable materials.
“It means it can be used industrially, it can be scaled, it’s super quick to make the materials and very effective,” she said.
“We don’t need to worry about complicated synthesis techniques that use really expensive metals and precursors – we can burn it and in 10 minutes have these particles ready to go. And by controlling how we burn it, we can control those ratios of desired syngas building blocks.”
While the duo have already built an electrolyser that has been tested with waste CO2 gas that contains contaminants, scaling the technology up to the point where it could convert all of the waste carbon dioxide emitted by a power plant is still a way down the track.
“The idea is that we can take a point source of CO2, such as a coal fired power plant, a gas power plant, or even a natural gas mine where you liberate a huge amount of pure CO2 and we can essentially retrofit this technology at the back end of these plants. Then you could capture that produced CO2 and convert it into something that is hugely valuable to industry,” said Dr Lovell.
The group’s next project will be to test their nanomaterials in a flue gas setting to ensure they are tolerant to the harsh conditions and other chemicals found in industrial waste gas.
National Academies Release COVID-19 Data Guide for Decision-Makers
The recently formed National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine Societal Experts Action Network (SEAN), which connects social and behavioral science researchers with decision-makers leading the response to COVID-19, released a rapid expert consultation to guide leaders using COVID-19 measurements like hospitalizations and reported confirmed cases to understand the spread of the disease in their communities.
The rapid expert consultation says that decision-makers should consider five criteria when evaluating COVID-19 data: representativeness, potential for systematic under- or over-estimation, uncertainty, time range, and geographical area.
The rapid expert consultation summarizes the benefits and drawbacks of seven specific COVID-19 measurements that decision-makers can consider as they use these measurements to respond to the outbreak:
  • Number of confirmed cases: This measure is readily available, but is likely to substantially underestimate the prevalence of COVID-19 in the population. As testing expands to include populations with less severe symptoms and asymptomatic individuals, this measure will become increasingly useful.
  • Hospitalizations: Hospitalization data are typically available in real time, though there may be uneven volume of reporting on certain days. This measurement reflects only the most severe cases of infection, but as the proportion of hospitalizations to confirmed cases declines, it likely reflects a decline in the total number of infections in a community.
  • Emergency department visits: In some places, emergency department visits are available at the local level in close to real time. These data are most useful in the early stages of an outbreak, or to assess resurgence, though it should be noted that patients with symptoms were exposed up to two weeks earlier.
  • Reported confirmed COVID-19 deaths: Reported COVID-19 deaths reflect the state of the outbreak several weeks prior, due to the long course of COVID-19 infection.
  • Excess deaths: Compared with the other measurements reviewed, excess deaths are the best indicator of mortality impacts of the pandemic. However, because of the potential for death misclassification, excess deaths represents a mix of confirmed COVID-19 deaths and deaths from other causes.
  • Fraction of viral tests that are positive: While widely used, this may not be a good indication of the prevalence of the disease, and may tend to be an overestimate, as the people tested are often not representative of the population. Understanding of the utility of antibody testing is still evolving.
  • Representative prevalence surveys: Representative prevalence surveys, in which a representative sample of people are selected and tested, are the best strategy for understanding the prevalence of the disease in any given population. Such surveys can be undertaken for specific populations, such as in a workplace, nursing home, or prison. However, gathering this data requires undertaking a special study and is not available from routinely collected data. Many public health agencies have the capacity to undertake such surveys.
A new interactive web tool was designed to help decision-makers dive further in to the strengths and weaknesses of these seven data types.
“Our intent is not to discourage decision-makers from using any of these data, as they represent the best of what is available,” said Mary Bassett, co-chair of SEAN’s executive committee and director of the François-Xavier Bagnoud Center for Health and Human Rights at Harvard University. “Rather, the goal of our rapid expert consultation is to clarify the limitations of these data points and help leaders as they make decisions, such as when to allow public gatherings or reopen businesses.”
“This is our network’s first official response, and we’re well-positioned to address other questions from governors, mayors, city councils, and other leaders grappling with how to respond to the outbreak,” added SEAN executive committee co-chair Robert Groves, executive vice president and provost at Georgetown University. “Social science is uniquely poised to help weigh risks, understand the causes and consequences of people’s behavior, and guide informed decisions forced to be taken under uncertainty.”
Safely Get Your EHS Training at Home or in Your Office
To help you get the training you need, Environmental Resource Center has added a number of dates to our already popular live webcast training. Stay in compliance and learn the latest regulations from the comfort of your office or home. Webcast attendees receive the same benefits as our seminar attendees including expert instruction, comprehensive course materials, one year of access to our AnswerlineTM service, course certificate, and a personalized user portal on Environmental Resource Center’s website.
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