The majority of the medical equipment needed by hospitals and other healthcare facilities, which are being purchased in bulk and wholesale, has been difficult to find for sale in physical and online stores. Most of these items, which includes not only face masks like the N95 and KN95 masks, but also gloves or face shields, are being manufactured overseas and imported.
Today, we want to discuss how the process of shipping surgical masks internationally is done.
What are surgical masks?
Surgical masks are items used in the healthcare field for the protection of the provider during surgical, medical, or dental procedures. They are one of the most easily recognized face masks as we often see them being used by doctors, nurses, paramedics, dentists, and other types of healthcare providers.
They offer a high level of fluid resistance to make sure no fluids released with a high pressure during these procedures can penetrate the mask and be in contact with the mouth or nose of the wearer. These fluids can be contaminated and be a way to transmit diseases, so wearing these masks protects the healthcare provider.
They also offer a certain level of filtration, but isn’t as high as that in N95 respirators. Surgical masks don’t filter out viruses like the flu or the coronavirus, as well as other particles like dust or smoke. This is why they’re not considered the best for antiviral purposes, and the CDC doesn’t recommend them for virus protection.
How are surgical masks shipped around the world?
Since the pandemic began, face masks have been one of the most globally traded items. The majority of the personal protective equipment used in the USA comes from overseas and are manufactured in its majority in China. Companies have relied on the importation of these masks to supply their need for protection, and it’s important to know the regulations and requirements needed to import masks in each country. So, we’ll talk about the necessary documentation and qualifications needed for each type of face mask.
Yes, there are different types of face masks, and it’s important to understand this since not all of them have the same requirements for their importation. People are generally under the assumption that all masks offer the same type of virus protection, and that isn’t the case. Different masks have different uses in different settings.
When they’re going through customs clearance, they are classified as personal or medical items depending on their use. The four main types of face masks being shipped around the world are:
- Cloth or paper face masks: classified as personal items, they only prevent the wearer from releasing respiratory fluids into the environment, therefore protecting those around them. They don’t have fluid resistance, so they can’t fully protect the user from the fluids released into the surrounding environment.
- N95 respirators: also personal items, they filter out with 95% efficacy airborne particles in the air, but are not tested for fluid resistance.
- Surgical masks: these are classified as medical items, and their main purpose is to protect the user from fluids as they offer a high fluid resistance, while also preventing the user from releasing their fluids into the environment. They also offer filtration properties limited to large particles, like bacteria.
- Surgical N95 masks: also medical items, they offer a combination of the protection offered by both N95 masks and surgical masks.
When shipping medical items internationally, each country has different regulations that are important to know. In the USA, all medical items need to be regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which includes both surgical masks and surgical N95 masks. To be considered a medical-grade item, approval from the FDA is extremely necessary.
Both regular N95 masks and surgical N95 masks need to be certified by the National Institution for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) to be considered an N95 mask, as they regulate respirators in the USA and make sure they will perform as N95 masks.
All face masks, mentioned, including the paper or cloth masks, have to include the packing list and commercial invoice. For the latter, these are the only requirements needed.
In international trade, the packing list is one of the most important necessary documents. It provides the exporter all the information about the shipment, including details about the packaging, the number of boxes and units, and any other available information about the packaging. All of this information must match the information contained in the commercial invoice.
Other names by which this document is referred to include the oil-based particles, manifest, delivery list or docket, bill of parcel, customer receipt, shipping list, and unpacking note.
The commercial invoice is another important document required in international trade. This is a legal document issued from the exporter, which is the seller, to the importer, which is the buyer, during all transactions done internationally, serving as the proof of the sale between the two. The document contains in detail the value, price, and quantity of the items, and also the conditions agreed upon by the two parties involved in the sale.
We’re facing a real healthcare crisis, where even the most popular 3M N95 masks like the 3M 8511, the 3M 8210, and the 3M 1860 are difficult to find. For this reason, is important for everyone to do their part and wear face masks in public settings. To make sure the medical-grade masks we mentioned in this article reach frontline workers, the CDC recommends the use of reusable cloth masks in both adults and kids over the age of 2.