In the United States, the N95 mask storage has brought the healthcare workers to be forced to reuse their N95 mask supplies. Other medical and surgical face mask types either reusable or disposable face mask is not enough for healthcare uses. So, an N95 mask is necessary for frontline workers in the USA.
Thus, kids and the general public have been discouraged to wear an N95 mask. The best use for the N95 mask right now is to utilize it for healthcare purposes. Hospitals and emergency clinics may buy the N95 mask in bulk or wholesale where they are for sale online. Meanwhile, face shields and disposable face masks may help block out smoke, dust, and hazardous particles for the public.
FDA Recommendations for Extended N95 Mask Use
The fit and function of the N95 mask must be maintained for it to be safely used. The use of a face shield may prolong the period of efficiency of the N95 mask. Hand hygiene is also a must. Discard the N95 mask if it is visibly damaged, soiled, or after 2-3 times of reuse of the N95 mask.
N95 masks that cannot be reused are contaminated with nasal or respiratory secretions, bodily fluids from the symptomatic or asymptomatic patient, or with blood. Following close contact with infected patients, the N95 mask needs to be discarded as well.
In between uses, hang the N95 mask in a designated clean and breathable storage area. Clean hands before and after handling the N95 mask and don’t touch the surface, both inside and outside of the respirator.
However, it should be noted that the N95 mask for single-use only is only allowed for reuse after gaining permission from the infection control policy of the facility. There are plenty of N95 mask reuse risks which include contamination after touching the face, eyes, or nose after touching the N95 mask.
The pathogens may be transferred from the N95 mask surface to the wearer’s hands and can cause infections if the wearer is not careful. Contact transmission is a risk of extended use and reuse of the N95 mask. Furthermore, there are certain types of masks that should not be reused. Later, we will discuss N95 mask decontamination methods for safe reuse.
FDA Disapproves Re-Use of China-made Masks
FDA officials issue warnings on the reuse of N95 masks and N95 respirators in hospitals. Healthcare frontline workers have been reusing their N95 mask supply due to an N95 mask shortage. To alleviate this situation, N95 mask decontamination procedures have been put in place.
Furthermore, China-made N95 mask alternatives are only to be used in the event of a crisis where the N95 mask supplies are completely depleted or entirely low. This is because such N95 mask alternatives are not monitored and checked by NIOSH.
FDA Monitors Decontamination Procedures
But, FDA is firm in its announcement that decontamination of Kn95 masks and other medical and surgical disposable face mask supplies that are made in China should not be re-used or decontaminated.
In addition, FDA states that only when FDA-cleared N95 mask supplies are unavailable, should decontamination and sanitization methods are allowed.
In response, Battelle, famous in N95 mask decontamination, returns kn95 masks to the hospital, or in other cases even discarded for safety. Also, the N95 mask with a valve may also not be decontaminated.
N95 Decontamination Procedures
The N95 mask may be decontaminated in a safe manner without diminishing its filter efficiency. However, the virus protection of a decontaminated face mask is only up to three times of decontamination.
The N95 mask may be decontaminated via ultraviolet light and vaporized hydrogen peroxide. This procedure for N95 mask decontamination may be used on the popular 3M N95 masks like 3M 8511, 3M 8210, and 1860.
N95 mask decontamination must also be done in such a way that it does not impact the size and fit testing for a minimum of two rounds of decontamination. After the third round of N95 mask decontamination, the protection the N95 mask offers against the virus remains acceptable.
The fastest way for N95 mask decontamination is by utilizing vaporized hydrogen peroxide of approximately 1,000 ppm. This N95 mask decontamination process eliminates viral growth in the exposed N95 mask after about 10 minutes. In contrast, ultraviolet light takes about an hour for N95 mask elimination of viruses.
Another cheaper form of N95 mask sterilization is by using 70 percent ethanol solution spray to saturate the N95 mask. Others may use heat treatment at 70 degrees Celsius in the oven for 10 minutes to decontaminate the N95 mask.
However, such methods came with flaws as an antiviral procedure. Ethanol was found to quickly decontaminate an N95 mask. However, N95 mask decontamination with ethanol alcohol does not pass the test for respiratory function during the second round of N95 mask decontamination.
The dry heat was rather slow as it takes at least an hour to kill the flu causing virus during N95 mask decontamination. However, the functionality of the N95 mask has maintained integrity even after two rounds of N95 mask decontamination using dry heat.
Meanwhile, CDC has neither approved nor advocated any N95 mask decontamination method. Still, the FDA does not believe that N95 mask decontamination creates an undue risk in performance so sterilizers, air purifiers, and disinfectant devices distributed with the intention to effectively kill novel coronavirus are not stopped by CDC or FDA.