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Noninvasive ventilation: Options and cautions for patients with COVID-19



Risks during extubation

Extubation of COVID-19 patients is also an aerosolizing procedure not just because you’re pulling an endotracheal tube out of the airway but because coughing is a normal part of extubation. “We’ve had to be careful with how we approach extubation in COVID-19 patients,” Dr. Lane-Fall said. “Ideally you’re doing this in a negative pressure environment. We have also had to use full PPE, covering the eyes and face, and putting on a gown for precaution.”

Reintubation of COVID-19 patients is not uncommon. She and her colleagues at Penn Medicine created procedures for having intubators at the ready outside the room in case the patient were to decompensate clinically. “Another thing we learned is that it’s useful to do a leak test prior to extubation, because there may be airway edema related to prolonged intubation in these patients,” Dr. Lane-Fall said. “We found that, if a leak is absent on checking the cuff leak, the use of steroids for a day or 2 may help decrease airway edema. That improves the chances of extubation success.”

Strategies for aerosol containment

She concluded her remarks by reviewing airway control adjuncts and clinician safety. This includes physically isolating COVID-19 patients in negative pressure rooms and avoiding and minimizing aerosols, including the use of rapid intubation, “where we induce anesthesia for intubation but we don’t bag-mask the patient because that creates aerosols,” she said. The Anesthesia Patient Safety Foundation guidelines advocate for the use of video laryngoscopy so that you can visualize the glottis easily “and make sure that you successfully intubate the glottis and not the esophagus,” she said.

A smart strategy for aerosol containment is to use the most experienced laryngoscopist available. “If you are in a teaching program, ideally you’re using your most experienced resident, or you’re using fellows or attending physicians,” Dr. Lane-Fall said. “This is not the space for an inexperienced learner.”

Another way to make intubation faster and easier in COVID-19 patients is to use an intubation box, which features a plexiglass shield that enables the intubator to use their hands to get in the patient’s airway while being protected from viral droplets generated during intubation. The box can be cleaned after each use. Blueprints for an open source intubation box can be found at

Expert view on aerosol containment in COVID-19

Dr. David L. Bowton, professor emeritus, department of anesthesiology, section on critical care, Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center, Winston Salem, N.C.

Dr. David L. Bowton

“While there is a dearth of evidence from controlled trials, recommendations mentioned in this story are based on the best available evidence and are in agreement with guidelines from several expert groups,” said David L. Bowton, MD, FCCP, FCCM, of the department of anesthesiology at Wake Forest Baptist Health in Winston-Salem, NC. “The recommendation of Dr. Lane-Fall’s that is perhaps most controversial is the use of an intubation box. Multiple designs for these intubation/aerosol containment devices have been proposed, and the data supporting their ease of use and efficacy has been mixed [See Anaesthesia 2020;75(8):1014-21 and Anaesthesia. 2020. doi: 10.1111/anae.15188]. While bag valve mask ventilation should be avoided if possible, it may be a valuable rescue tool in the severely hypoxemic patient when used with two-person technique to achieve a tight seal and a PEEP valve and an HME over the exhalation port to minimize aerosol spread.

“It cannot be stressed enough that the most skilled individual should be tasked with intubating the patient and as few providers as possible [usually three] should be in the room and have donned full PPE. Negative pressure rooms should be used whenever feasible. Noninvasive ventilation appears safer from an infection control standpoint than initially feared and its use has become more widespread. However, noninvasive ventilation is not without its hazards, and Dr. Lane-Fall’s enumeration of the patient characteristics applicable to the selection of patients for noninvasive ventilation are extremely important. At our institution, the use of noninvasive ventilation and especially high-flow oxygen therapy has increased. Staff have become more comfortable with the donning and doffing of PPE.”

Dr. Lane-Fall reported having no financial disclosures.


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