The COVID-19 emergency has caused many healthcare centers in the USA to become overwhelmed and collapse. The amount of supplies, as expected, hasn’t been enough for the number of cases they’ve been receiving. Plus, they need much more protection to work safely, and the country wasn’t prepared for a pandemic in terms of supplies and personal protective equipment.
One of the states that seem to have one of the largest N95 masks emergency stockpiles is Washington, with approximately more than 30 million N95 respirators. In this article, we’ll discuss how they managed to do this, the state of healthcare centers in Washington, and the importance of N95 masks for healthcare professionals right now.
The Washington stockpile of N95 masks
According to the Seattle Times, the Washington state government warehouse has a stockpile of over 30 million N95 masks, which is the estimated amount considered enough to provide nearly 100 masks to each of the state’s healthcare workers. However, most hospitals have been reusing their N95 masks or limiting their use, being one of the states that adds to the shortages of N95 masks around the United States. Washington’s COVID-19 cases are, meanwhile, reaching their highest levels since the beginning of the pandemic.
This stockpile comes as the result of careful planning by the officials for the imminent surge of COVID-19 cases that is expected. But, some people in the industry suggest that this stockpile has grown because most of these face masks are too large for females, who make up the majority of the healthcare workers in the state. Most of the state's N95 respirators are a model developed during the pandemic by a manufacturer in China.
The state officials have established strict qualifications since April about who will receive the masks for free, intentionally maintaining them as an emergency supply. But, while the stockpile is increasing, the healthcare providers are reportedly working without following the safety recommendations that have been issued by the authorities.
N95 masks make up the largest spending inside the budget for medical supplies and equipment. The state has spent over $407 million on equipment, which also includes gowns, gloves, and sanitizer. They’ve distributed around 6 million N95 masks to several centers, including prisons, fruit farmers, and emergency managers, among others. But, over 80% of the masks are inside their warehouse.
The state’s guidelines for N95 mask distribution give priority to certain organizations based on the level of interaction with COVID-19 patients they have, as well as the remaining supplies they have access to. For example, hospitals with less than two week’s worth of face masks can get access to the emergency batch. But, facilities like long-term care homes and nursing homes, can only qualify for these masks if they have active COVID-19 cases and have severely depleted supplies.
The importance of N95 masks for healthcare workers
N95 masks are respirators inside the classification established by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, also known as NIOSH. This is an institution that has the goal of making recommendations to workplaces, based on scientific research, that could prevent diseases or injuries in the workplace. They’re a federal agency created as a part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
They have a classification for respirators, to which the N95 masks are part of, that is considered to be the standard for respirator filtration inside the USA. They base the names of the respirators on two characteristics:
- Oil-resistance: that is, how well does the respirator filter out and protect against particles that contain oil. This is what the letter at the beginning of the respirator name means, which can be either N, R, or P, meaning not resistant, resistant, and oil-proof, respectively. N95 masks, therefore, are not resistant to oil, and can’t filter out oil-based particles.
- Filtration rate: is the second part of the respirator name, indicated with a number that represents the percentage of minimum particulate filtration efficacy. This tells you the percentage of airborne particles in the air the respirator can effectively filter out, and the percentages can be either 95, 99, or 100%. N95 masks are respirators that can filter out at least 95% of the airborne particles in the air.
Based on this, N95 masks are respirators that can protect against 95% of the non-oil based airborne particles in the environment, which includes viruses like the flu or the coronavirus, as well as dust or smoke. This makes N95 masks one of the best disposable face masks available for virus protection, with antiviral properties that exceed those found in surgical masks or reusable cloth masks.
Some of the most popular N95 mask models are without a doubt the 3M N95 masks, the most popular and important brand around the world. The most popular models include the 3M 8210 and the 3M 8511. They can also be used with face shields for more protection, as well as added protection to the eyes.
N95 masks, because of their high efficacy for protection against this new virus, have been scarce for most of the year. Before the pandemic, this was an item easily found for sale online, available to buy in bulk and wholesale. But now, healthcare centers across the globe have been severely affected by the shortages of this particular medical supply.
To conclude this informative article, we would like to remind our readers that anyone who uses face-covering, including kids over the age of 2 years old, is helping their communities face the coronavirus pandemic more safely.