With the rise of the COVID-19 pandemic, medical supplies have become like gold. N95 masks in particular seem to be the most valuable and the scarcest product among them, and it’s also considered to be the most important part of the protective gear in healthcare workers.

Nursing homes around the United States have been reporting shortages and scarcity of medical supplies, but is this still going on? Here’s what we know:

Do nursing homes in the United States have enough respirators?

With variation between states, nursing homes around the USA in every state reported some type of shortage in personal protective equipment (PPE) during October. This is according to an analysis of public data that was released last week, by the AARP, in which they have statistics of cases and deaths related to COVID-10, as well as shortages of PPE and staff in all states of the country.

Across the USA, 25.5% of all the nursing homes reported a shortage of PPE. The state with the most concerning metrics was Maine, with 60% of nursing homes lacking a one-week supply of PPE during the four weeks covered by the study. This includes surgical and N95 masks, eye protection devices like face shields or goggles, gowns, and gloves.

The main issue in these facilities has been N95 respirators, as 11.4% of the nursing homes in the country reported shortages of specifically this item. The next on the list of the most affected items are gowns.

Seeing the shortage problem in nursing homes, it was announced by the White House in August that 7 million N95 masks from the federal stockpile would be received by nursing homes across the country. The plan was to send reports to state governors with a detailed plan to provide masks for healthcare workers. This comes from the reports of healthcare personnel reusing PPE, which can be dangerous if it isn’t done properly.

COVID-19 infections inside nursing homes have also been surging, with a record level of 9,715 by the end of July according to the American Health Care Association and National Center for Assisted Living. Betsy Marville, a nurse and organizer, has stated that healthcare workers inside nursing homes often have to bring their own supplies and masks.

N95 masks and why they’re important for nursing homes

N95 masks are a specific type of disposable face mask that is considered to be a respirator. They offer more virus protection than surgical or medical face masks, with more antiviral properties. The name N95 comes from the classification of respirators established by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), considered to be the American standard for respirators.

This classification names respirators according to their resistance to oil, indicated by the letters N for not resistant, R for resistant, and P for oil-proof, and according to their percentage of minimum particulate filtration efficacy, which can be either 95, 99, or 100%. In this classification, N95 masks are respirators that are not resistant to oil and can filter out a minimum of 95% of all airborne particles.

These characteristics make N95 masks effective against non-oil based particles, which include dust and smoke, which is why N95 respirators are part of the PPE inside workplaces like construction and mining sites. Viruses like the flu and the coronavirus are also non-oil based airborne particles, which is why N95 masks can also be used by healthcare workers to prevent infection by them, particularly during the last few months.

For healthcare workers to be able to properly attend residents inside nursing homes, they need to stay protected in situations where there’s a high risk of infection from COVID-19, which is why N95 masks are an essential item that must be available inside nursing homes at all times.

Recommendations to avoid shortages of PPE inside nursing homes

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has a series of recommendations, not only to properly equip nursing homes with the necessary PPE, but to manage it correctly and to prevent potential shortages. The first thing they recommend is to maintain an inventory for PPE to always know how much of it is available at all times. The stock of PPE should be monitored daily to identify when they start to run low.

To prevent shortages, strategies to optimize the current inventory should be taken before the shortages occur. These strategies include extended use of the respirators and face masks, and bundling resident care and treatment activity to minimize as much as possible the entries to the resident rooms, therefore using less supplies.

The extended use of PPE refers to the practice of wearing the same face mask, respirator, or eye protection device, like goggles or face shields, to take care of more than one resident. For example, to use the same N95 mask during an entire shift in which the worker cared for more than one resident.

The wearer must avoid touching the respirator, face mask, or eye protection device, and if it happens, they should clean their hands immediately to prevent contaminating other people or themselves. Additionally, decontamination processes can be applied to devices like goggles and face shields, which are more durable.

For healthcare providers, you can find a lot of options for PPE online. Items like 3M N95 masks, including the models 3M 8210 and 3M 8511, KN95 masks, reusable cloth masks, and other medical supplies are available for sale online, to buy in bulk or wholesale.

Remember that anyone who uses their protective gear, whether it’s a reusable or a disposable face mask, is helping their community fight off the pandemic. Kids can also spread the virus, that’s why they need face masks in a smaller size to protect them as well.

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