The relatively new situation in the United States and the entire world is living has changed a lot for many people. Now, we’re worrying about face masks, distancing rules, how kids are going to school, and many other situations we never prepared for. On the news, we hear a lot about healthcare workers working with little medical supplies, and the importance of N95 masks.
These scarce products are critical for virus protection among first responders, and healthcare workers are some of the most affected people by these shortages. They’re exposed to both potential and confirmed cases of COVID-19 all day, and they need the best type of antiviral protection they can have.
This situation has led to potentially dangerous practices, like reusing N95 masks, using less effective face coverings like surgical masks or even reusable ones, and even sharing N95 masks. Are these practices, particularly the use of N95 respirators by more than one person, safe? Let’s discuss this.
Reuse of N95 masks
As we all know, N95 masks are a type of disposable face mask. This means the mask isn’t designed to be reused, and they can be used for 8 to 12 hours only. In ideal conditions, for optimal effectiveness, N95 masks are meant to be discarded after a single use. The materials used in the production of the face mask are non-woven fabrics, also known as melt blown fabric, and they are the reason for the short lifespan of N95 masks.
This raw material isn’t very durable, and when the N95 mask is used for more than the designated lifespan, the materials can get damaged, and they won’t have the same antiviral and filtering properties. Melt blown material is also very scarce right now because it isn’t very easy to produce, and this is one of the reasons N95 masks are scarce as well, leading to people, especially healthcare workers, asking the question: can I reuse N95 masks? Or can we share them?
Since the beginning of the pandemic, the development of a reusable N95 mask has been one of the main focuses of research, among the coronavirus vaccine and other drugs that can help cure it. But, unfortunately, we don’t have any reusable models or ways to sterilize disposable N95 masks on the market yet. However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has some guidelines and recommendations for the reuse of disposable N95 masks in emergencies.
With shortages of N95 masks happening all over the USA, the CDC offers some recommendations for reusing N95 masks. According to the agency, ‘reuse’ refers to “the practice of using the same N95 respirator for multiple encounters with patients but removing it after each encounter. The respirator is stored in between encounters to be put on again before the next encounter with a patient”. The CDC is very clear in saying that the reuse of N95 masks should always be done by the same user, and as long as the mask remains functional.
So, even though N95 masks can be used more than once by the same person, the use of the same N95 respirator by two different people is not recommended. According to the CDC, secondary exposures to viruses like the coronavirus can happen when N95 respirators are reused and shared among users and one of them is infected. Therefore, they urge users to not share N95 masks, since people can be infected and not know it.
To prevent sharing respirators by accident, they recommend healthcare facilities to develop written procedures to make sure users of N95 masks label the mask itself, for example on the strap, or the container used for storing them with the user’s name.
N95 masks are a type of respirator that is used in many work settings where respiratory hazards are present. These particles, when exposed to them chronically and permanently, can severely damage the respiratory tract, leading to serious health consequences. That’s why N95 masks are mostly known by miners or construction workers, who use them to protect themselves from harmful particles like smoke or dust.
The respirator rating system in which the N95 mask is classified is established by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, also known as NIOSH. This institution regulates respirators as one of the measures to make sure work-related injuries or illnesses are prevented in every workplace in the USA.
N95 masks, according to the classification, are any respirator that isn’t resistant to oil and can filter out 95% of all airborne particles from the air. This means N95 masks can effectively trap non-oil based particles and prevent the user from inhaling them. These particles include the aforementioned dust and smoke, but bioaerosols too, like the flu virus or the coronavirus. This makes them the best face mask for virus protection, and they need to be prioritized for first responders and healthcare workers.
For the reuse of N95 masks, it’s always better to be using the very best N95 models. Some of them include the 3M N95 masks, like the 3M 8511 and 3M 8210 models. Anyone who uses these masks can be sure they’re staying protected in the workplace.
You can find plenty of options for virus protection for sale online, with options to buy in bulk or wholesale, and you can even choose the size that fits you best. You can find face shields and KN95 masks too. But, whatever you choose to stay protected, remember it’s our responsibility to protect ourselves in public settings.