MVHS changes policy for workers who wear N95 masks

A new policy from MVHS following a controversial claim from the Communications Workers of America union

Mohawk Valley Health System is a non-profit system that was created to provide healthcare services to Mohawk Valley residents in New York City. They have a wide range of services and extended facilities, including a dialysis center and a dental care center.

They’ve recently changed their policies regarding employees and the use of face masks, which was inspired by the feedback they received from the workers who are at the frontlines of the pandemic. The CEO and President of MVHS, Darlene Stromstad, explained that they will provide an N95 respirator to each employee who requires it every day, which must be thrown away at the end of the day.

Stromstad sent an email to its workers explaining that, based on their feedback on the issue of reusing N95 masks after sterilizing them, and with the evolving science regarding the topic of the appropriate reuse of PPE, they have changed their policy on the use of these masks.

The update comes after the Communications Workers of America union released a statement over a week ago where they claim the MVHS employees were forced to use N95 respirators more than one time and to use masks used by other employees.

According to Stromstad, MVHS recently received a 20,000 mask shipment, and in the next 10 weeks, they’re expecting 20,000 more. She also stated that they’re actively recruiting professionals in the medical field because they’re experiencing a staff shortage. This includes them reaching out to former employees and workers who were laid off recently.

Why are N95 masks necessary in healthcare facilities?

N95 masks are the preferred choice for virus protection in healthcare settings because of their high antiviral properties. They work better at protecting people from getting infected with COVID-19 than other face mask options, including surgical or medical masks, and of course, reusable cloth masks.

The name of these masks comes from the classification of respirators established by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), which is an agency that is part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), has the responsibility to make recommendations based on scientific research to help workplaces across the United States prevent work-related injuries or illnesses.

They also regulate respirators, which are an essential item inside the PPE of many work fields, and therefore have many different uses. These are masks or mask-like devices that prevent the wearer from inhaling harmful particles that might be present in the air, which are called respiratory hazards. Respirators trap them in their filter media, this way protecting the wearer from serious health conditions like lung cancer or COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease).

N95 masks, according to the NIOSH classification, are respirators without resistance to oil, as indicated by the letter N, and with a filtration rate of 95%, as indicated by the number 95. This means they can effectively filter out 95% of the non-oil based airborne particles, which are those with a size as small as 0.3 micrometers, from the air. Such particles include pollen, dust, smoke, and bioaerosols like the bacteria that causes tuberculosis, the flu virus, or the coronavirus responsible for COVID-19.

Inside the USA, they need the approval of NIOSH, certifying they were tested and evaluated by them, and they meet the requirements they establish for this respirator type. When they’re used as healthcare supplies, they also need approval by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), as all medical equipment and supply does.

Shortages of N95 respirators have been making healthcare providers having to make use of practices of extended use and limited reuse. The first one is the most widely implemented and is preferred above the latter according to the CDC since it represents less risk of contamination.

Limited reuse is defined by the CDC 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.” This means the worker can use the same mask after removing it for several patient encounters, but they should never be shared with other employees.

Shortages aren’t limited to N95 masks, they also include many other necessary supplies during the pandemic, including KN95 masks, surgical masks, gloves, gowns, sanitizer, face shields, among others. This is due to the high levels of critical patients healthcare workers are having to attend. Additionally, they also require now much more PPE than before, since the risk of infection is very high as well.

Many companies have been ramping their production to meet this gigantic demand, like 3M with their 3M N95 masks in popular models like the 3M 8210 and the 3M 8511, who have doubled their production of this item since January and are working towards producing 2 billion respirators globally by the end of the year. Honeywell has also been working to supply the demand in the USA, and they even opened a new production line located in Rhode Island that was distributing N95 masks directly to the US emergency stockpile for frontline workers. Still, none of these efforts have been able to supply enough PPE to face the pandemic.

While hospitals and other medical facilities struggle to obtain these masks in bulk and wholesale, which were once very easy to find for sale and buy online, the CDC urges the general public, including kids over the age of 2, to make use of alternatives like reusable cloth masks, reserving the medical-grace masks and respirators for frontline workers.

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