When it comes to N95 masks and N95 respirators, it is important to follow the guidelines released by the experts. The Centers for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC) in the United States is one of the authorities that are very important when it comes to dealing with and setting rules for the use of N95 masks, N95 respirators, and all other personal protective equipment.

In this article, it is important to first look at the possibility of extending the use of N95 masks and N95 respirators. It is important to look at the extended use and contingency strategies that may be applied by individuals who are looking at N95 masks and N95 respirators. 

Applying The CDC Contingency Strategies

The CDC came up with different systems on how to address the problems brought about by the supply chain. There are a few contingency and crisis strategies that the CDC released at the beginning of this pandemic:

  • Extended Use. With extended use, it has been a concern of many that N95 masks get worn by medical front liners for an extended period of time. In the beginning, the N95 respirators were worn only one and then discarded but in order to help alleviate the supply concerns, it is important for the experts to know that they can still get protection even with a dwindling supply. The concern is mainly on the burn rate of the N95 masks and the extended use of the N95 respirators will definitely be good for individuals.
  • Use Beyond Shelf Life. The CDC also made a pronouncement that they are requiring N95 mask use beyond their shelf life as it would help them world know that even beyond the manufacturer-designated shelf life, the N95 masks can get used for health care delivery.
  • Emergency Authorization. Emergency authorization of individuals masks that are not necessarily NIOSH approved are also looked at by individuals. The performance of some internationally approved respirators are great for individuals especially those who are not in the medical frontlines. The performance of some of the internationally approved respirators are great. N95 masks are NIOSH approved but those with foreign authorization are FDA approved. 

Crisis Management

There are also some other ways set by the CDC in order for a healthcare facility to determine if they are in crisis management and the ways that they can handle the crisis. The following are some of the steps that individuals could look at in order to manage the crisis properly, if any:

  • The healthcare facility can use respirators that have reached the manufacturer-designated shelf life but have not been evaluated by NIOSH.
  • The use of N95 masks is prioritized by healthcare activity type. Hence, the use of N95 masks depends primarily on the type of activity and healthcare needs of the individuals involved as well as the healthcare facility. 

When Is It Time For A Healthcare Facility To Go On Crisis Mode? 

A healthcare facility must already go on crisis mode when the answer to the following questions is yes:

  • “Is your current N95 FFR inventory and supply chain equal to or greater than your PPE needs?” 
  • “Are there N95 FFRs available from local healthcare coalitions and federal, state, and local public health partners that can cover your PPE needs based on your burn rate and ability to procure more PPE when needed?”
  • “Are there NIOSH-approved respirators that meet or exceed the level of protection of N95 FFRs available in your inventory or from the supply chain to cover your PPE needs?”
  • “Are there NIOSH-approved respirators available from local healthcare coalitions and federal, state, and local public health partners that can cover your PPE needs?”

Allowed Limited Reuse of N95 Respirators

The CDC is also very specific when it comes to reusing N95 masks and N95 respirators. 

According to the CDC, re-use refers to “the practice of using the same N95 respirator by one HCP for multiple encounters with different patients but removing it (i.e. doffing) after each encounter.” It does not refer to the decontamination after a day at the facility.  This is an important restriction since the CDC still aims to protect the frontliners from possible contamination. The following are the set of guidelines coming from the CDC:

  • The reuse of the N95 masks must be limited by no more than five uses per device to ensure an adequate safety margin.
  • There should be no sharing. The N95 mask and other disposable respirators should not be shared by multiple individuals. It should be a one N95 mask for one healthcare provider.
  • The test for reuse is as long as the respirator maintains its structural and functional integrity. If reuse must be implemented in times of shortages, health care professionals should be encouraged to reuse their N95 respirators when caring for patients with tuberculosis disease first.
  • Contaminated N95 masks must be discarded and no longer get reused. 

Follow the Guidelines

N95 masks and N95 respirators must get used with great caution. It is important for many health care professionals based in the United States to follow the guidelines set by the CDC. It is the CDC that should always be followed in terms of the guidelines that they set for individuals. N95 masks and N95 respirators are necessary but the medical health care professionals are more important so even with the dwindling supplies, the government as well as hospital administration must do everything in their power to help protect the frontliners.

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