Is it unethical to use N95 masks for personal use?

One needs to understand the need to reserve the N95 masks for the medical service providers.


The year 2020 and coronavirus has taught us so many life-changing lessons. In the year, we have learned the value of our near dear ones and have built a strong gratitude in our hearts and minds for the essential service providers. We have learned that it is important to respect nature, our fellow beings, and importantly understand that, we have to say united with all to survive any tough situation. No matter if you know a particular person or not, helping them during the pandemic will help both sail through the tough times. 


The entire world is facing a major crisis, and there has been a scarcity of food, sanitizer, and most definitely masks. Coronavirus has made the use of masks a compulsion. The initial lockdown had made it easy to go without masks. However, the doctors and nurses required the FDA approval masks to protect themselves while tending the patients suffering from COVID-19. The masks were limited and were meant for one-time use only. The lockdown phase hampered production, but the hospitals ran out of their Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), especially the masks. Several companies who were not from the field also started the production of N95 masks; still, could not meet the growing demand for the N95 masks. The doctors and nurses were exposed to the risk of fighting the virus without the masks yet serving the patients. Many doctors were infected and even succumbed to the deadly virus. The doctors and nurses were forced to use the single-use mask repeatedly, and this was an injustice. The superpower and wealthy countries were also subject to the same misery and could not avail their doctors and nurses of the required amount of N95 masks.   


The lockdown phase has eased, and in this phase, people must be wearing masks while stepping out. For the general public, a cloth mask will serve the purpose. However, few people disturbed by the complete scenario and death toll created by the virus wanted extra and added protection for their loved ones and themselves. Thus they started to avail the N95 masks for themselves. The N95 masks were available in retail stores and online thus, buying them was easy. Despite repeated instructions from the government and health authorities, people were not stepping back from buying N95 masks. Several other types of masks have different features and protection levels. From various researches, it is concluded that using a specific type of N95 mask is required by the health care and essential workers in a wide range of industries as they are at a greater risk of exposure to Covid-19. The Government and hospital authorities are leaving no stone unturned to avail the masks and encourage their usage.


What is an N95 mask?


N95 masks are a type of respirator that offers more protection than a surgical mask as it filters out both large and small particles when the wearer inhales the air. It has the number 95 attached to it as it blocks 95% of microscopic particles. An N95 respirator is a respiratory protective device that gives a very close facial fit and effectively filters the airborne particles. The design of the mask is such that the edges form a seal around the nose and mouth. It is a multi-layered mask made with handwoven fabric so that it helps to breathe air accurately without letting you struggle to breathe.


Does the ethical question arise as should the mask be kept reserved for the doctors and nurses?


Now that you have received the N95 mask and are happy about it, you need to ask yourself several ethical questions regarding the mask. Firstly ask the person who is giving you the mask how he got it. It could be that he made it from vacuum bags as an effort to donate to the hospital team and then decided to give a few extras to his friends. Or it could be that he received it at his job, and decided that he will keep one from himself and distribute the rest. Or it could be that he stole it from the hospital that he had visited while getting his COVID-19 test done. One has to be smart enough to ask the questions. If you feel that the answer shows unethical practices, then do not use the mask; rather, give it to the local authority, health care worker, or donate it to the hospital. Please do Not support the wrongdoings of others; rather explain to them about it and stop the malpractice.


Secondly, ask if the mask is new or used. It could be contaminated by the coronavirus or toxins from a biotech lab. If it is a used mask, then discard it as it will pose greater health issues and expose you to viruses and germs.


Thirdly, confirm if at all it is a genuine N5 mask. If it is a fake N95 mask, it will give you false security of protection and do more harm.   


As per various researches and tests conducted by the World Health Organization (WHO), the scientists have confirmed that N95 and other respirators masks are far superior to surgical or cloth masks in protecting essential medical workers against coronavirus. The results were published officially.It states clearly that the WHO and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend that essential workers like doctors, nurses, and emergency responders should use N95 masks and not the regular surgical masks.

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