The University of Iowa

Pandemic Respirator Guide

During a pandemic it may become necessary for employees to wear respirators to protect themselves from infection. This guide will help departments determine if they need respirators and if they do, how to implement a program correctly.

Respirator Program Activation Steps

When a pandemic outbreak becomes likely, the following steps should be taken:

  • Determine if employees are essential and if they will need respiratory protection.
  • Update the written program with new required use and employees or, if the department does not have a required respirator program, create a written program.
  • Obtain respirators.
  • Have employees complete a medical evaluation.
  • Have employees complete the correct training.
  • Complete a fit test on all employees.


Essential Function Determination: First, the essential functions performed by the department must be identified.  University essential functions are operations that are absolutely essential to the continuation of core university operations during a multi-week pandemic when classes and most other university activities are suspended.

Employees Performing Essential Functions: Next, identify all employees who perform work necessary for the continued operation of department performed essential functions, as determined above. 

Employees Needing Respiratory Protection: Finally, a limited number of employees that perform essential functions at the University will have to perform their work in locations that do not permit the use of normal protective measures to avoid an airborne pandemic virus exposure.  These individuals and their backups, are required to be included in a pandemic respirator program.

University Essential Functions

  • Direct patient care or the welfare or safety of students, faculty or staff.
  • Maintenance or operation of University systems or networks critical to the ability to meet essential patient, student, and employee needs during a pandemic outbreak.
  • Maintenance and operation of University infrastructure systems critical to the ability to meet essential patient, student, and employee needs during a pandemic outbreak.
  • Duties are essential to avoid jeopardy to critical university-sponsored research activities.

Personnel Positions Likely to Perform Essential Functions

  • Doctors
  • Nurses
  • Clinic receptionists
  • Public safety officers
  • Environmental, health, and safety staff
  • Staff providing support to UIHC
  • Payroll and purchasing staff
  • Network administrators for critical functions
  • Computer support for critical information systems
  • HVAC technicians working on air handling systems or patient care facilities
  • Utility operations
  • Energy services staff
  • Employees involved in lab animal care, veterinary services
  • Employees involved in clinical trials where failure to continue the trail would involve increased health risk to the research subjects

Personnel Positions with Potential Airborne Pandemic Exposure

  • Activity that requires working near a known or suspected pandemic patient.
  • Activity that requires working in a high population density work environment.
  • Activity that requires working in an environment where social distancing is not possible.  

Departments with an existing required respirator program: If the department already has a required respirator written program, it will need to be updated to include the new task(s) that requires a respirator and the new employees that are approved to wear the respirators.

Departments without a required respirator program:  If the department does not have a required respirator program, they will need to create one.  A template for the written program is available from EHS.  Below is information for completing the template:

  • Appendix A – The program administrator is the person responsible for assuring the program is being followed correctly. The program must be reviewed annually; enter the date this is done in the review date field.
  •  Appendix B – List all employees who will wear a respirator and what respirator they are approved to wear.  For pandemic use, all employees should be listed as required.
  • Appendix C – In the “Operation / Chemical used” column list the pandemic disease and then the task that requires a respirator, e.g. Pandemic Flu – close contact patient care. Put yes in the “Respirator Required” column. In the “Respirator and Cartridge” column list the particulate filter, e.g N95, P100. The service life is 1 shift.

As with all respirator use at the University, it is the responsibility of the department that uses the respirators to obtain them.

For protection against viruses, a particulate respirator is needed. The most common types are N95 and P100.  These can be found in dust mask style respirators and as cartridges for half-face, full-face, or hooded PAPR respirators. If the respirators are being used in a patient care environment, an N95 that is also certified by the FDA as a surgical mask should be used.

Grainger,, and Fisher Scientific,, are the two main sources of respirators on campus. During a pandemic, it may work best to call and talk to a sales rep as they may be able to help prioritize an order.

During a pandemic it is very likely that respirator supplies will run low and obtaining them will be difficult. FEMA recommends having 8-12 weeks of supplies on hand before a pandemic starts.  The CDC has the following pages that provide information on dealing with a shortage of respirators during a pandemic:

All pandemic respirator users must complete the required respirator medical clearance process.

The respirator fitness questionnaire is now handled through an online system called ReadySet. If you already have a ReadySet account with University Employee Health, you will need to contact them by email ( or phone (319-356-3631) and let them know you need the respirator medical clearance questionnaire added to your account. If you do not have an account, follow the instructions on the University Employee Health Clinic webpage to set up an account. Once the questionnaire is complete, contact Employee Health to let them know it needs to be reviewed and to schedule an appointment.

The course Pandemic Influenza Dust Mask - W451OS is not applicable to the COVID-19 pandemic.  Please take the course from this list that corresponds to the respirator you are using:

  • Respirator: PAPR Hood or Helmet - W139OS
  • Respirator: PAPR Tight Fit Facepiece - W140OS
  • Respirator: Tight Fit Facepiece - W138OS

Training must be taken annually as long as the respirator is being used.

All employees that are wearing a respirator, except a hooded PAPR, during a pandemic need to be fit tested.

UIHC employees will be fit tested at University Employee Health Clinic (UEHC) as part of their medical evaluation.

Other employees may be fit tested at UEHC if time and resources are available to do so. If the employee is not fit tested at UEHC they need to contact EHS for fit testing.  Employees will need to bring a respirator with them to the fit test.

EHS will make every effort to get employees in promptly for fit testing. This may take awhile given the large increase in demand for fit testing at one time and EHS staff potentially being affected by the pandemic. Because of this, departments can work to complete their own fit testing. In order to do so, the department will need to purchase a fit test kit,, or get all the pieces individually.  EHS may also have extra kits available to loan out. The employees performing the fit test must complete the ICON course, Performing A Qualitative Fit Test - W541OS. 3M also has a good video on how to do the fit testing at   

The results of the fit test must be recorded on the qualitative fit testing form and the form must be maintained for 1 year.