The COVID-19 pandemic started to gain force in the United States around February and March of this year, when the emergency started to get real. The first case of this new type of coronavirus was reported in December of 2019 in Wuhan, China, and by September of 2020, it has spread to every country in the world.
This pandemic has left behind a great deal of horrible consequences, but one concern that was there since the one were the resources and the possibility for shortages, a thought that worried the healthcare field primarily.
With the concern of scarcity of medical supplies in the USA, people gave into the fear and started to buy N95 masks, KN95 masks, face shields, and all sorts of medical supplies in bulk or wholesale. Physical stores were soon out of the picture, so online stores were the main source for many people to stay protected.
The shortages that started to come close led the government to implement a series of measures, including the increase of domestic production and importation of N95 masks manufactured outside the USA. Let’s take a deeper look into these masks and how they’re imported from foreign countries into the United States.
A brief explanation on N95 masks
We all know by now that N95 masks are the best type of antiviral face mask right we have at hand right now. They are so effective against virus protection that federal agencies like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have been constantly encouraging the general public to leave these disposable face masks to healthcare workers, since they’re not reusable.
Why are they so effective? N95 respirators are a type of respirator according to the classification of respirators made by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). This is the institution, part of the CDC, in charge of making recommendations to prevent work-related health conditions or injuries. As such, they can approve all sorts of personal protective equipment (PPE), making sure anyone who uses them are really being protected.
There are many work fields in which workers are exposed constantly to what are known as respiratory hazards. These are airborne particles that, when inhaled in great quantities and for prolonged periods, will lead to several respiratory health conditions, including lung cancer or COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease).
According to the NIOSH classification for respirators, these face mask are named taking into account their resistance to oil and the percentage of airborne particles in the air they can filtrate (minimum particulate filtration efficacy). N95 masks are named this way because they’re not resistant to oil (indicated by the letter ‘N’), and can filter out at least 95% of all airborne particles. This makes them a great resource for protection against particles that aren’t oil-based and are airborne, like the flu or coronavirus, smoke, or dust.
How to import N95 masks
The COVID-19 pandemic has come with an increase in the demand for all sorts of medical supplies, primarily face masks and other types of face coverings. Needless to say, production of these supplies has increased significantly by manufacturers globally, this way the communities that need them most, and especially healthcare workers, can be protected as well.
The most important part to remember when importing N95 masks is that these are respirators, and whether or not they’re intended to be used as medical equipment, they must have the approval by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, also known as OSHA. Only the N95 respirators that are intended to be used as medical PPE need the additional regulation and approval by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
It’s important to point out that, because of the emergency situation we’re facing with the pandemic, the FDA has made the import of all types of medical face masks easier. Importers of products under the Emergency Use Authorization of the FDA have to transmit an Intended Use Code.
N95 mask shortages
When the pandemic was approaching the USA at the beginning of the year, the shortage of PPE was imminent. Experts started to warn everyone, mainly the government, to increase production and importation, a measure that should have been taken since before the pandemic reached the country. Scarcity of this product was already happening in other parts of the world, and that should’ve been a warning sign for the USA.
When cases started to be reported in the country in March, the Department of Health and Human Services said in a statement that the United States only had about 1% of the resources necessary to face the pandemic. This was a very concerning fact, that affected mainly healthcare workers who needed a lot of N95 masks to stay protected while working.
Even though the Defense Production Act was invoked in April, a little too late into the game, a law that could authorize the government to direct American private companies specialized in PPE to prioritize the country’s supply of medical or surgical PPE. This meant they would increase their domestic production of N95 masks and prioritize importation over exportation.
The main American manufacturer of N95 masks, 3M, increased their production of 3M N95 masks, including the models 3M 8210 and 3M 8511. And just like them, many other companies joined the efforts to supply our healthcare workers with the necessary PPE, but shortages are still happening all over the country. The most affected healthcare centers are smaller clinics and practitioners, as well as other types of medical care like dentists.
Remember to stay protected with all the face masks for sale online, and remember to find masks intended to be used by kids, which have a smaller size. The only way to help our healthcare workers is to protect ourselves.