AG(P)itation, Part Deux

Since my post last weekend, I now have found the term that, once this is all over (and it will be over someday, my friends), will send me into flashbacks and result in me sitting in the corner, rocking back-and-forth, saying "Please, Mommy, make it stop."  "Aerosol-generating procedure." AGP for short. 

In the last few weeks, the items that healthcare teams across the U.S. and professional societies have insisted are AGPs have included, but are not limited to, the following:
  • Laboring patients in second or third stage of delivery 
  • All TEEs ("because might accidentally enter the airway like a bronch")
  • EGDs (The new AGA guidance states: "To estimate the risk of viral transmission in endoscopic procedures, we examined data evaluating non-GI aerosolizing-generating procedures such as bronchoscopy and tracheal intubation. Our search strategy did not yield comparative studies on the degree of aerosolization with upper or lower GI endoscopy compared with bronchoscopy or tracheal intubation. However, we assume that insertion of the endoscope into the pharynx and esophagus is likely to be associated with a similar risk of aerosolization of respiratory droplets to that of bronchoscopy.") 
  • Orthopedic procedures with drilling of intramedullary bone
  • Any surgery that goes anywhere near a sinus (All ophthalmologic procedures, any craniotomy, etc)
  • Any dental procedure
  • Cardiac cath lab procedures where the patient is "found down" (their MI might have been brought on by COVID-19)
  • All neurosurgery because the patient's face is right in the surgical field
  • All electrocautery (guidance that was courtesy of the American College of Surgeons that has now been removed from their guidance page)
Some such requests are based primarily on concerning yet truly anecdotal stories from other countries that claim a specific specialty is at "highest risk of contracting COVID." Often these are extended to all patients due to the possibility that an asymptomatic patient could be a source of spread, drawing the thread from detection of SARS-CoV-2 at high levels in the upper airways in asymptomatic patients to detection of viral RNAemia in a minority of hospitalized highly symptomatic patients to note theoretical risks. In many of these instances, the proposed risk of "aerosol" exposure is due to facets of the procedure that would have existed long before COVID-19 and, if true, should have warranted use of N95 respirators as part of Standard Precautions for these procedures for years.  The added interjection of professional society guidance that understandably advocates for the healthcare workers in their field but doesn't contain any evidence base to support claims that x or y is an AGP that leads to increased risk of pathogen transmission requiring an N95 also creates marked discomfort for infection prevention and operational teams on the front line, when faced to assess risk and allot precious PPE. As a colleague told me last week, "No society is going to say, 'Hey, we're cool.  We'll just take the masks.'" I imagine, if we had unlimited PPE, this wouldn't be an issue, as we all want our colleagues to be protected and feel safe. The reality is PPE is a scarce resource, and one that we have to use our science to guide decisions.

The best thing about this issue is that hopefully Dr. Babcock will get more funding for her research to help address these questions. When all this is over, I guarantee you that the term "AGP" will cause me, and I imagine many of you, to run the other direction . . .  Stay healthy and sane everyone!!


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