The limited supply of ventilators is one of the chief concerns facing hospitals as they prepare for more COVID-19 cases. In Italy, where hospitals have been overwhelmed with patients in respiratory failure, doctors have had to make difficult life-or-death decisions about who gets a ventilator and who does not.
In the U.S., emergency plans developed by states for a shortage of ventilators include using positive airway pressure machines — like those used to treat sleep apnea — to help hospitalized people with less severe breathing issues.
While that measure could stretch the supply of ventilators and save lives, it has a major drawback. Officials and scientists have known for years that when used with a face mask such alternative devices can possibly increase the spread of infectious disease by aerosolizing the virus, whether used in the hospital or at home.
Indeed, that very scenario may have contributed to the spread of COVID-19 within a Washington state nursing home that became ground zero in the United States early on. First responders called …