Respirators, face masks, and their risk reductions via multiple transmission routes for first responders within an ambulance

Amanda M. Wilson, Rachael M. Jones, Veronica Lugo Lerma, Sarah E. Abney, Marco Felipe King, Mark H. Weir, Jonathan D. Sexton, Catherine J. Noakes, Kelly A. Reynolds

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


First responders may have high SARS-CoV-2 infection risks due to working with potentially infected patients in enclosed spaces. The study objective was to estimate infection risks per transport for first responders and quantify how first responder use of N95 respirators and patient use of cloth masks can reduce these risks. A model was developed for two Scenarios: an ambulance transport with a patient actively emitting a virus in small aerosols that could lead to airborne transmission (Scenario 1) and a subsequent transport with the same respirator or mask use conditions, an uninfected patient; and remaining airborne SARS-CoV-2 and contaminated surfaces due to aerosol deposition from the previous transport (Scenario 2). A compartmental Monte Carlo simulation model was used to estimate the dispersion and deposition of SARS-CoV-2 and subsequent infection risks for first responders, accounting for variability and uncertainty in input parameters (i.e., transport duration, transfer efficiencies, SARS-CoV-2 emission rates from infected patients, etc.). Infection risk distributions and changes in concentration on hands and surfaces over time were estimated across sub-Scenarios of first responder respirator use and patient cloth mask use. For Scenario 1, predicted mean infection risks were reduced by 69%, 48%, and 85% from a baseline risk (no respirators or face masks used) of 2.9 × 10−2 ± 3.4 × 10−2 when simulated first responders wore respirators, the patient wore a cloth mask, and when first responders and the patient wore respirators or a cloth mask, respectively. For Scenario 2, infection risk reductions for these same Scenarios were 69%, 50%, and 85%, respectively (baseline risk of 7.2 × 10−3 ± 1.0 × 10−2). While aerosol transmission routes contributed more to viral dose in Scenario 1, our simulations demonstrate the ability of face masks worn by patients to additionally reduce surface transmission by reducing viral deposition on surfaces. Based on these simulations, we recommend the patient wear a face mask and first responders wear respirators, when possible, and disinfection should prioritize high use equipment.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)345-360
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of occupational and environmental hygiene
Issue number7
StatePublished - 2021


  • Aerosol transmission
  • COVID-19
  • EMS
  • respirator

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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