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The American Heart Association (AHA) has issued an interim set of guidelines for emergency workers responding to cardiac arrest victims amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The guidelines, “Interim Guidance for Basic and Advanced Life Support in Adults, Children and Neonates with Suspected or Confirmed Covid-19,” were published Thursday in the AHA journal Circulation.

“The goal is to ensure that patients with or without COVID-19 who experience cardiac arrest have the best possible chance of survival without compromising the safety of rescuers,” the AHA said in a press release on the changes.

The new rules include limiting the number of people in a room or on the scene when responding to a cardiac arrest call, and minimizing the airborne spread of the virus by “prioritizing oxygenation and ventilation strategies” to lower the risk of aerosol spray.

The AHA also recommends that health care systems and EMS agencies implement policies for frontline workers addressing whether to start or continue resuscitation efforts for Covid-19 patients based on the person’s chances of survival. 

The agency is still encouraging bystanders to perform CPR or defibrillation on potential Covid-19 patients, especially if they’re family members living in the same home. For a bystander in a public setting, the AHA recommends using a face mask or face covering for both the rescuer and the victim during hands-only CPR to reduce virus transmission risks.

Some context: The executive director of Rescue Care at the University of Chicago and co-author of the guidelines, Dr. Dana Edelson, said in a statement that while CPR is critical for many patients, it does put rescuers at increased risk of exposure to the coronavirus.

“This guidance draws on evolving science and expert opinion to help health systems and providers mitigate that risk with the hopes of maintaining the survival gains for cardiac arrest achieved over the past two decades,” she said.

Other health groups, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Society of Anesthesiologists, the American Association of Respiratory Care and the American College of Emergency Physicians, among others, collaborated with the AHA on the new guidelines.

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