CPR and COVID-19—When is it safe to save a life?

With the risk of COVID-19 transmission, individuals may not know whether it’s safe to help an individual in cardiac distress. Each year an estimated 350,000 sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) events occur in the United States outside the hospital setting. While Penn-led research shows that survival outcomes for in-hospital cardiac arrest (IHCA) has remains stable throughout the pandemic, survival outcomes for instances of out-of-hospital cardiac arrest (OHCA) have decreased during the same period by around 18%.

Person performing chest compressions on a person laying in the grass.

But people should not be afraid to perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) if needed, says Benjamin Abella, a professor of Emergency Medicine in the Perelman School of Medicine. “Because of the pandemic, people have been hesitant to step up and help a stranger for fear of contracting COVID-19. But hands-only CPR is a safe and effective way to help someone in cardiac arrest with a very low risk of transmitting the virus. You can even perform it while wearing a mask,” says Abella.

Hands-only CPR, which involves chest compressions with no mouth-to-mouth, is proven to be as effective as conventional CPR (with mouth-to-mouth). The American Heart Association says that for teens and adults experiencing cardiac arrest, the lungs and blood contain enough oxygen to keep vital organs healthy for the first few minutes, as long as someone provides high quality chest compressions with minimal interruption. The most important thing someone near the victim can do for a person in sudden cardiac arrest is to pump blood to the brain and to the heart muscle, delivering the oxygen that still remains in the lungs and blood.

“For patients experiencing cardiac arrest, time is the most valuable resource. The faster someone can help by calling 911 and administering CPR, the likelier it is they will survive,” explains Abella.

This story is by Kelsey Odorczyk. Read more at Penn Medicine News.