CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — As the number of COVID-19 cases in our country rise, supplies are dwindling.
Medical professionals facing a shortage of ventilators in some areas of the country are turning to alternate ventilation devices.
Corpus Christi-Nueces County Public Health District Clinical Director Dr. Kim Onufrak said the possibility of running out of ventilators is worrisome.
"It is a concern," she said. "It is a concern in New York right now. We hopefully will not get to that point, but we want to be prepared."
CPAP and BiPAP machines generally are used for people who suffer from sleep apnea, but could be used in the absence of conventional ventilators.
The FDA recently noted that in the absence of conventional ventilators, patients may be treated at home or in a health-care facility with non-invasive ventilators like CPAP or BiPAP.
But Onufrak says using these machines to treat COVID-19 patients is a last resort.
While ventilators are closed-circuit systems, CPAP and BiPAP devices are not.
"In the setting of coronavirus, BIPAP or CPAP are usually a last resort," Onufrak said. "You really don’t want to put them on BiPAP or CPAP because it aerosolizes the virus, so it increases the risk of exposure.”
That is why the devices would have to be converted.
“You would have to add a viral filter to it. You would have to add another mask to it," Onufrak said. "Create a closed circuit so that when they’re exhaling that virus isn’t exhaled into the air, it’s going into that closed circuit system.”
There would also have to be a sterilization procedure in place and the proper parts to convert the machines.
The health district said it contacted Del Mar College to take on the project of finding CPAP/BiPAP machines that are not being used and getting them reconditioned and cleaned up, just in case they are needed.
Del Mar said in a statement that it is "working with the County Health District on finalizing the details of a possible CPAP/BiPAP machine donation program."
But in the meantime, health experts said the best way to fight COVID-19 is to continue social distancing.
"To help see the curve go on the down trend so that we won’t have to use the CPAPS or the BiPAPS," Onufrak said. "That’s only in an emergency setting. We really don’t want to have to get to that point but we are going to be prepared."