This pandemic has led to an immense increase in the stature and popularity of various respirators and masks. A piece of protective equipment that was previously used in construction, healthcare, and sometimes for protection from pollution and different fumes only has now become an essential commodity for everyone. A respirator that was previously used for the aforementioned purposes has now become the leading choice for protection against the notorious COVID-19 disease. Especially the N95 respirator which can give the user 95% protection against harmful airborne particulates like its name implies and also recommended by agencies such as NIOSH and approved by the CDC.
A respirator such as the N95 is considered more reliable than other masks such as the surgical masks because the N95 has a sealed fit and does not allow enough space for fluids, bacteria, and droplets to seep through. It was also the recommended mask for healthcare and other frontlines since they were in direct contact with this illness and needed optimum protection against it-which could only be provided by a mask as efficient as the N95. However, the pandemic has caused a worldwide shortage of this essential item and for a very long time during COVID-19 we saw the government and the people struggling to get their hands on PPE such as the N95.
The shortage made the healthcare workers and people all over the world anxious and when the US government was unable to arrange sufficient PPE for everyone they restricted N95s for healthcare workers only. Furthermore, the US president had also ordered N95 manufacturers such as 3M to stop the export of the particulate respirator to other countries to curb the scarcity. Moreover, the hospitals had also come up with their idea to alleviate this crisis—by reusing N95 masks. Although N95 masks are disposable and can only be used once as the saying “desperate times call for desperate measures” goes, it is quite understandable why this option of last resort was executed.
The number of cases in America and over the globe was increasing very rapidly and the death rate by the virus was also increasing. The situation was extremely alarming and the lack of PPE was also a major contributing factor in this crisis. The N95 manufacturers were struggling to speed up their production and to keep up with the high demand for this product in the market worldwide and thus, many healthcare workers were deprived of their rightful N95 masks. The reuse strategy was a smart decision but not a permanent solution to this problem and dangerous well.
While many scientists have come up with possible viable methods of cleaning N95s in order to reuse them there remain a large portion of them who do not support the reuse strategy stating that if an N95 is sterilized even once, it becomes futile. The sterilization damages the material of the mask rendering it useless. One cannot give a guaranteed deduction about any of these views, but since the current circumstances could benefit from the reuse strategy, it could be pondered upon. The risk involved may be a problem but at the end of the day, an old N95 mask is better than no N95 mask at all.
Cleaning a full-mask respirator
Before proceeding with the cleaning, remember to take out the cartridge or filter attached to these respirators. This cleaning method can be used for any full-mask respirator. After setting the cartridge or filter aside, use a respirator cleaning wipe or put the respirator in a warm cleaning solution and scrub it. Choose a cleaning solution that will be suitable for the respirator and will not cause damage in any way.
Cleaning a particulate respirator
Although it is not recommended to clean disposable masks that hasn’t stopped people from trying out a different method for its reuse. While many people opt for sterilizers, disinfectants, and what-not to clean an N95 mask, the best method per our research is the rotation method. This method saves you from the danger of using a cleaning liquid or any other thing of that sort on your N95 mask and damaging it because it simply requires you to leave you N5 hanging in an isolated place for a week.
According to the rotation method, a person shall buy 6 N95 respirators and after using each piece he should hang it in an isolated area for a week and wear the next mask the other day. When you leave your mask unused for a week it gives enough time to the bacteria and viruses to evaporate from the masks making it suitable to be used again. While there is also another method but there isn’t any proof of how viable they are and could damage your respirator so this method is much better comparatively. It won’t damage your respirator and also has a good enough chance of working.
Reusing a disposable respirator is quite dangerous and should only be done under extreme circumstances. Where-as reusable respirators can be cleaned every day as they are not made of fabric material and aren’t disposable. There are different ways to clean both these respirators, although one should be extremely careful when cleaning an N95 particulate respirator and also with the method one has chosen because it could also severely damage the N95. The rotation method is the most recommendable one for the cleaning of N95.