Shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE) have been affecting severely the healthcare facilities across the country. This has led to workers being working unsafely with risk of infection of COVID-19 during the pandemic. Many worker associations have been speaking up about this problem, and today we’ll discuss the demands made by the Massachusetts Nurses Association.
The Massachusetts Nurses Association is demanding N95 masks for all healthcare providers
In a report done by 22News, the Massachusetts Nurses Association (MNA) demands for distribution of N95 masks to all healthcare providers so they can be properly protected from COVID-19 while doing their job. These masks are considered a crucial item inside the PPE (personal protective equipment) according to the CDC and need to be reserved for frontline workers.
Each healthcare facility is required to perform fit tests on their employees to make sure the masks work well on them since they can only be effective when a tight seal is formed with the face. However, according to the president of the MNA, Katie Murphy, nurses and other workers inside hospitals don’t have access to the masks.
Murphy said to 22News that the hospitals and governors have been saying there are big piles of N95 masks and that they have plenty of them, so she stated that they need to be available for all healthcare workers. On the other hand, Baystate’s Chief Quality Officer, Dr. Dog Salvador, sent a statement to 22News in which he explains that their highest priority is the safety of their employees and patients.
He continues by saying: “We have worked hard to ensure supplies of quality PPE for all of our employees and our policies have met or exceeded the safety standards expressed by CDC, Massachusetts DPH, and scientific experts. Our healthcare facilities are a safe place to work and receive care as a patient.”
The importance of N95 masks in the healthcare field during the pandemic
Right now, N95 masks are the best disposable face mask healthcare workers can use while they work. They have antiviral qualities that are much higher than the other face masks available, making them the preferred choice when it comes to virus protection in healthcare settings.
Their name indicates that they can filter out 95% of the non-oil based airborne particles in the air, which are those with a size as small as 0.3 micrometers and that don’t contain any oil in them. This is established in the NIOSH classification for respirators, used as the filtration standard in the United States.
NIOSH stands for the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, a federal agency that was created in 1970 as a part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). They help ensure workplaces in the USA are safe and helps them prevent work-related injuries or illnesses by providing science-based guidance and recommendations.
As part of their job, they also regulate respirators, which are an important part of the PPE in many work fields where workers are exposed to respiratory hazards, particles that can be harmful to the airways when inhaled. Respirators trap these particles and prevent the user from inhaling them, protecting them from the negative effects they can cause.
The characteristics mentioned about N95 respirators make them highly effective for filtering out particles like dust, smoke, pollen, and other allergens, as well as some bioaerosols, including the flu virus, the coronavirus responsible for COVID-19, and others. On the other hand, they can’t filter out certain particles, like those that contain oil like glycerin or cutting fluid, as well as vapors and gases which are too small.
NIOSH must test out and evaluate all the respirators manufactured to be N95 masks, to make sure they meet their requirements for this respirator type. The NIOSH approval is obligatory, otherwise the product is considered not as effective. For their use in healthcare settings, they also require approval by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
The value of these masks have made them also scarce during the pandemic, as their demand has increased so much that, even with efforts by big companies like 3M and Honeywell to increase their production, shortages are still reported across the USA. 3M has doubled their N95 mask production since January, and are on track
N95 masks aren’t the only affected item, with other supplies being scarce as well, like surgical masks, face shields, gowns, gloves, and KN95 masks. However, N95 respirators are definitely the most affected ones, with 3M N95 masks like the 3M 8210 and 3M 8511 also being difficult to find.
This has led healthcare facilities to make use of the limited reuse and extended use practices recommended by the CDC in times of shortages of respirators. The CDC defines the first one as “the practice of using the same N95 FFR or other filtering facepiece respirator for multiple encounters with patients but removing it after each encounter.”
According to the CDC, the limited reuse of respirators is preferred over extended use, as it represents a lower possibility for contamination. This practice must always be done by the same person, as sharing masks between colleagues is not recommended.
The majority of the respirators were easy to buy in bulk and wholesale by anyone who wanted to do so. However, they are now critical items that are hard to find, so they need to be reserved for healthcare providers and other frontline workers. Reusable cloth masks can be found for sale easily online or can be made with easy to get materials at home. The recommendation by the CDC for the general public, including kids over the age of 2, is to wear these masks in public settings.