COVID-19 is the acronym and name used to refer to the coronavirus disease 2019, a new respiratory illness first reported at the end of last year. This disease is caused by a new type of virus that was previously unknown to scientists. Coronaviruses have been known to cause respiratory infections in humans that are usually mild, but this new virus has varying levels of pathogenicity depending on the person it infects.
This uncertainty surrounding the virus, as well as the global infection it has caused, led to a concerning emergency status across the world. One of the main situations has been the collapse of the healthcare system, seen in many countries around the world where the number of severely affected patients surpassed the capacities of the hospitals.
Shortages and scarcity of the main medical supplies has affected healthcare workers all around the world, and the N95 mask, the most crucial part of the medical PPE (personal protective equipment) is one of the most scarce ones as well. Today, we’ll discuss the availability of this mask in Massachusetts, as well as the importance of the N95 mask.
Availability of N95 masks in Massachusetts
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a shortage of medical supplies, which is severely affecting healthcare workers across the nation. Many of them have had to reuse and take other measures to extend as much as possible the lifespan of respirators, particularly the N95 masks, which have been the scarcest item among the medical PPE required for virus protection.
Massachusetts isn’t the exception, and they’ve also been struggling to get their hands on these masks. It’s been said that Massachusetts, one of the states with the highest populations and the highest number of COVID-19 cases, has been one of the most neglected by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), prioritizing states with lower cases and populations.
If you’re a healthcare worker and are experiencing shortages of medical PPE, Get Us PPE is one of the most popular non-profit organizations aiming to provide healthcare centers with the protective equipment they need to face the pandemic.
N95 masks are a type of respirator inside the classification used in the USA for filtration rate. This classification is established by a federal agency that is part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), commonly known as NIOSH. This acronym stands for the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, and the institution was created to inform and make recommendations based on scientific research to every workplace in the United States to ensure occupational safety.
NIOSH tests respirators and certifies if they meet the criteria for the respirator type it’s been manufactured as. For example, if a manufacturer is producing N95 masks, NIOSH has to test them and give their approval that the respirator meets the requirements of an N95 mask. If the mask doesn’t have that seal of approval, it’s not certain whether or not it can provide the protection an N95 mask is supposed to provide. If an N95 mask is to be used in healthcare settings, they also need approval by the Food and Drug Administration.
The NIOSH classification takes into consideration two characteristics to name respirators. This is what the names mean:
- First, there’s a letter that indicates the resistance to oil, which translates into how well the respirator can filter out particles that contain oil. N-rated respirators aren’t resistant, R-rated ones are somewhat resistant, and P-rated respirators are the most resistant, they’re oil-proof. N95 masks can’t filter out oil-based particles.
- Then comes a number, which is the percentage of minimum particulate filtration efficacy. This tells us how many of the airborne particles (those with a diameter of 0.3 micrometers) in the air can be filtered by the respirator. Respirators can have either 95, 99, or 100% efficacy, and N95 masks, as you might have guessed, can filter out 95% of these particles.
N95 respirators can only filter out 95% of the non-oil based particles in the air, which means they can protect against particles like dust, coal smoke, and certain viruses including the flu virus and the SARS-CoV-2, the virus responsible for COVID-19. They can’t protect against oil-based particles like glycerine or cutting fluid, or non-airborne particles like vapors and gases.
N95 masks are considered, at the moment, the best and most effective disposable face mask for antiviral purposes and virus protection. They are more effective than surgical and medical face masks, and of course, homemade reusable fabric masks. This is why healthcare workers need them to work safely, as they’re in situations where exposure to the virus is much higher. Some popular models include 3M N95 masks in the models 3M 8511 and 3M 8210, and they are usually worn with face shields on top to increase protection to the eyes as well.
KN95 masks are different from N95 masks because they’re manufactured following the Chinese filtration standard, but there are very few differences between the two. KN95 masks can be used as substitutes of N95 masks when these are scarce during emergencies like the pandemic, and many of them have been granted an Emergency Use Authorization by the FDA.
Alternatives to N95 masks can be used by the general public, and the CDC encourages this, urging the public to use cloth masks and to leave medical-grade face masks to healthcare workers. These can be found for sale online, available to buy in bulk and wholesale, and with options in a size that can fit kids over the age of 2. You can also find many resources to make your own at home, the important thing is to remember that anyone who uses a face mask is doing their part to stop the spread of the virus.