As much as possible, standard obstetric indications should guide the timing and route of delivery. In the case of a COVID-19–positive patient or a patient under investigation, nonobstetric factors may bear heavily on decision making, and management flexibility is of great value. For example, in cases of severe or critical disease status, evidence suggests that early delivery regardless of gestational age can improve maternal oxygenation; this supports the liberal use of C-sections in these circumstances. In addition, shortening labor length as well as duration of hospitalization may be expected to reduce the risk of transmission to HCWs, other staff, and other patients.
High rates of cesarean delivery unsurprisingly have been reported thus far: One review of 108 case reports and series of test-positive COVID-19 pregnancies found a 92% C-section rate, and another review and meta-analysis of studies of SARS, MERS, and COVID-19 during pregnancy similarly found that the majority of patients – 84% across all coronavirus infections and 91% in COVID-19 pregnancies – were delivered by C-section.4,5 Given these high rates of cesarean deliveries, the early placement of neuraxial anesthesia while the patient is stable appears to be prudent and obviates the need for intubation, the latter of which is associated with increased aerosol generation and increased virus transmission risk.
Strict protocols for the optimal protection of staff should be observed, including proper personal protective equipment (PPE) protection. Protocols have been detailed in various guidelines and publications; they include the wearing of shoe covers, gowns, N95 masks, goggles, face shields, and two layers of gloves.
For institutions that currently do not offer routine COVID-19 testing to pregnant patients – especially those in areas of outbreaks – N95 masks and eye protection should still be provided to all HCWs involved in the intrapartum management of untested asymptomatic patients, particularly those in the active phase of labor. This protection is justified given the limitations of symptom- and history-based screening and the not-uncommon experience of the patient with a negative screen who subsequently develops the clinical syndrome.
Obstetric management of labor requires close patient contact that potentially elevates the risk of contamination and infection. During the active stage of labor, patient shouting, rapid mouth breathing, and other behaviors inherent to labor all increase the risk of aerosolization of oronasal secretions. In addition, nasal-prong oxygen administration is believed to independently increase the risk of aerosolization of secretions. The casual practice of nasal oxygen application should thus be discontinued and, where felt to be absolutely necessary, a mask should be worn on top of the prongs.
Regarding operative delivery, each participating obstetric surgeon should observe guidelines and recommendations of governing national organizations and professional groups – including the American College of Surgeons – regarding the safe conduct of operations on patients with COVID-19. Written guidelines should be tailored as needed to the performance of C-sections and readily available in L&D. Drills and simulations are generally valuable, and expertise and support should always be available in the labor room to assist with donning and doffing of PPE.