The emergence of the COVID-19 virus has introduced us to many new concepts and items. A mere six months ago, a scenario in which lockdown, travel restrictions, working remotely, and not seeing loved ones for months would read like a Hollywood plot; now, this has become a reality for millions of Americans within a short space of time.
So too has the way we interact, dress, and protect ourselves and our loved ones. Whether you live in a big city or a rural area, whether you’re young or old, it’s common nowadays to see everyday folk wearing protective gear such as face masks to protect them and others against infection.
Indeed, in an increasing number of states, the wearing of face masks is now mandatory, given the still-rising number of infections.
In our Ultimate 3M N95 Mask Guide, we give you the lowdown on the different types of face masks and discuss their effectiveness in preventing the spread of infection. Our special focus is on the N95 mask given its superior protective qualities. Once the preserve of medical personnel, this mask is becoming ever more popular with the general public, offering a previously unobtainable level of protection.
Read on to find out more about the role of N95 and other face masks, and how you can keep yourself and your loved ones safe from infection.
What Do Face Masks Protect Against?
Face masks provide varying levels of protection against a range of diseases and contaminants, depending on their type. We’ll look at this in more detail in the following sections.
As a general rule, face masks of all types can protect against particles or droplets from coughs or sneezes. The more specialized face masks, such as the 3M N95 face mask range, can provide additional protection against smaller particles and some airborne viruses.
Face masks will also be able to filter out — to a varying degree — contaminants like dust, pollen, and residue from the construction or mining industries, for example.
When a large proportion of the population wear masks, this will help reduce infection rates. This is because people who are knowingly or unknowingly infected with diseases will be less likely to pass on bacteria or viruses and spread infection.
So the wearing of face masks is most effective when already-infected people wear them in large numbers. It’s a good habit to get into. And they are also especially useful for people who care for the sick, who are immunocompromised, or who have had contact with an infected person.
Increasingly, the general public is turning to face masks of all sorts to protect themselves and others, especially in situations where it isn’t possible to practice social distancing, such as when shopping or using public transport.
In the next section, we’ll take a closer look at the scientific evidence around face masks and the prevention of infection.
Why Wear a Face Mask — What’s the Evidence?
There has been plenty of research to tell us that using face masks is a simple and effective way to prevent the spread of infections such as COVID-19, influenza, many other viral infections, and a whole range of bacterial infections.
Different types of face masks offer varying levels of protection. According to online health encyclopedia examine.com, reusable cloth masks will offer low to moderate protection, disposable surgical masks will give moderate to high protection, and N95 respirator masks can offer the highest levels of protection. We’ll look at the different varieties of masks in more depth in the next section.
Let’s get back to the science. We know from previous outbreaks of disease that there is evidence that face masks can stop the spread of infection. Examples from recent history include the SARS 2003 outbreak. Referring to this time, a study (1) conducted in Hong Kong found that healthcare professionals who wore a face mask when caring for SARS patients had up to 13 times more protection against infection than when they were without a mask.
It’s worth noting that the study found that only N95 masks and surgical-type masks worked in this case. Both are made to protect against the airborne droplets that can be coughed into the atmosphere by affected patients, which is how infection spreads, the study concluded.
It seems that history is repeating itself in the current COVID-19 crisis. A recent study (2) looking at the relationship between wearing face masks and the infection rate of COVID-19 carried out in Germany found that wearing them lowered numbers of cases between 2.3 and 13 percent in the 10 days after they became mandatory.
And it concluded that wearing face masks diminished the daily growth rate of COVID-19 infections by approximately 40 percent.
This is not the only very recent study confirming that face masks play an important role in reducing the risk of infections such as SARS-CoV-2 which cause COVID-19.
A far-reaching review (3) of 172 observational studies from 16 countries along with 44 comparative studies found that using face masks could significantly decrease the risk of infection, especially if N95 respirators or similar models were used in place of disposable surgical masks.
What’s more, it found that face masks were beneficial for both healthcare professionals and anyone in the community who could be exposed to infection, and welcomed the use of face masks by the general public, as long as healthcare workers could access adequate supplies.
Combining face mask use (especially N95 respirators) with keeping distances of at least one meter (approximately three feet) and wearing other PPE reduced the risk of infection significantly, it concluded.
What Different Types of Masks Can You Get?
Now that we know the value of wearing face masks, and a little about the effectiveness of the different types, let’s take a closer look at the various models available, as well as the different sub-types where applicable.
Disposable Surgical Face Masks
You may already be familiar with disposable surgical face masks, much like the ones you might see healthcare professionals wearing. These are usually made from breathable fabric and are designed to cover the nose and mouth with ear loop fastenings, as well as to stop larger particles and droplets from sneezing and coughing from going into or coming out of your mouth.
They are meant to be worn just once, and to be thrown away afterward. You should also note that they must be replaced as soon as they get damp, as moisture impairs the bacterial filter.
Reusable Face Masks
You can make your own reusable face mask or buy one ready-made. A great alternative to the disposable face mask, it will need to be washed after every use. As a general rule, you can wear your reusable face mask up to 50 times.
Just like surgical masks, they stop larger droplets and particles from going into or coming out of your mouth.
The reusable face mask can be made out of soft breathable fabric to be kind to your skin and in many colorways and designs. Some varieties have a replaceable filter, making them a more durable solution.
How to Use Your Disposable or Reusable Face Mask Properly
The World Health Organization (WHO) has issued guidelines on wearing non-medical face masks properly, summarized here:
- First, before touching the mask, clean your hands.
- Ensure that the mask isn’t damaged or dirty.
- When you put it on, make sure it fits your face snugly without any gaps at the sides.
- Check that it covers your nose, mouth, and chin.
- Try not to touch the mask when you are wearing it.
- Before you take the mask off, wash your hands again.
- The correct way to take it off is to unhook the straps from your ears or back of your head, then pull it away from your face.
- If your mask is reusable, store it in a clean plastic bag that can be sealed.
- When you take it out of the bag, grab the mask by the straps.
- Wash your mask once a day at a minimum with hot water and detergent.
- If your mask is a one-time disposable model, discard it carefully. To do this, fold it inward when you take it off, so the panel exposed to the air when you were wearing it is concealed. Then roll it up and wrap it in a disposable bag which should be tied or sealed and placed in the garbage.
- Clean your hands again after removing the mask.
It’s also important to know what NOT to do when wearing your mask.
- Don’t wear a mask that shows signs of damage, is dirty, or is wet.
- Don’t wear a loose-fitting mask.
- Don’t hook your mask underneath your nose.
- Don’t take your mask off when there are people within a distance of one meter.
- Don’t wear a mask if you find it difficult to breathe through it.
- Don’t share your mask with other people.
The N95 mask — also known as the N95 respirator — is a disposable mask that covers the wearer’s mouth and nose and filters out toxic airborne particles or droplets, including those relating to viruses. In addition to the larger particles and droplets that surgical and reusable masks guard against, N95 masks can halt smaller particles and a range of viruses.
The “95” in the name refers to the fact that the mask is 95 percent effective in filtering out these unwanted particles, and can protect against much smaller particles than a regular disposable surgical mask can. In fact, it can stop particles of less than 0.3 micrometers in size — which means it can capture many viruses, as well as bacteria, mold spores, and dust.
To be classed as an N95 mask, it must meet the requirements of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health for air filtration — the 95 percent effectiveness referred to above.
This is equivalent to the KN95 standard in China, the FFP2 in Europe, the RS2 or RL2 in Japan, and the KF94 in South Korea.
While they were originally designed for use in mining and construction to prevent dust and other particles from being breathed in, N95 masks have also been used for a long time in healthcare settings and in the community to prevent infection.
With the COVID-19 health crisis, the N95 has become increasingly popular all over the world. In fact, it’s been reported that N95 masks have been selling out all over the globe and anyone who’s tried to procure them in the United States will have met with a challenge.
Now they are not just worn by medical, dental, or manufacturing personnel, but the everyday person on the street. With different models and sizes available, there is an N95 mask to fit every person, young or old, with the smaller versions being suited to children and young adults.
Fortunately, Clinical Supplies has a full range of 3M masks in stock at a competitive price. This prestigious brand is approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and is recommended during the current COVID-19 health crisis, as it is resistant to moisture.
The History of the N95 Mask
Delving a little deeper into the history of the N95 masks will give you some insights into the versatility of its ancestors. Early versions have been used throughout history to combat plague, tuberculosis, enemy attack in warfare, and now a new generation of viruses.
One of its predecessors was a cloth face mask created in China at the time of the Manchurian plague outbreak in 1910, and was found to be the first mask that guarded against bacterial transmission. It also proved invaluable in the 1918 Spanish flu outbreak not long after.
The gas masks that were widely used during the First World War just a few years later protected against chemical fumes and carbon monoxide that was emitted by undetonated shells. While they served their purpose, they were heavy and awkward to wear and needed some refinement.
One such example was the British small box respirator that included a filter made of crêpe paper, the prototype for the filter you find on today’s N95 masks.
By the Second World War, it was commonplace for the general public to carry around more lightweight versions of the gas mask to protect them from potential attacks. By that time, the respirator had evolved to become a more user-friendly and practical device.
Fast-forward to the 1970s and the first N95 respirators, based loosely on the gas mask model, were produced by 3M. While they were first intended for use in mining and industry, a version that blocked viruses was developed in the 1990s to combat drug-resistant tuberculosis thanks to Professor Peter Tsai of the University of Tennessee.
This paved the way for the lightweight and comfortable versions that we are familiar with today, and in fact Professor Tsai came out of retirement to help with the effort to produce more N95 masks in response to today’s COVID-19 pandemic, undertaking useful research on how to decontaminate them successfully.
That N95 masks have had such illustrious predecessors is a testament to their efficacy and enduring appeal.
Who Should Wear an N95 Mask?
If you thought N95 masks were just for healthcare professionals, think again. They are valuable for all members of the community, from professionals to laypeople and everyone in between.
It goes without saying that N95 masks are essential wear for healthcare professionals, medical or dental, affording superior protection against large and small droplets, bacteria, viruses, and contaminated fluid.
The models with valves are especially valuable to anyone working busy or long shifts as this function keeps levels of heat, moisture, and carbon dioxide down and provides a more comfortable experience for the wearer.
If you have to use public transport to get to work, you will find an N95 mask an invaluable accessory to your journey. Not only will it protect you against pollution from emissions as you travel, it will also give you protection against many viruses and bacteria that may be present in large numbers on crowded buses and trains.
Workers in Community Settings
If you are a worker in a community setting with a high number of residents or service users, such as a care home or educational establishment, you will no doubt be in contact with many different people in the course of your role. Protection against viruses in the form of an N95 mask will safeguard not only the wearer, but also the community around them. This is especially important when working with the young or elderly who may be more vulnerable to infections.
In Other Workplaces
If you’re returning to work after a period spent in semi-isolation at home, it’s likely that your employer will have put into place measures to make your workplace as safe as possible as we return to the “new normal.” These may well include the compulsory use of face masks such as the N95. As we’ve already seen, N95 models with valves lend themselves particularly well to this scenario, thanks to their abilities to keep the wearer cool and fresh for long periods of time.
The General Public
With its excellent abilities to keep certain viruses and bacteria at bay, as well as offering protection against dust, pollutants, and other environmental contaminants, N95 masks are a practical solution for anyone going about their everyday lives.
In fact, there is solid evidence to say that where face masks such as the N95 are mandated in the United States, there is a bigger daily decline in COVID-19 infection rates following the order. This was borne out in a recent study (4) that looked at mandate orders issued between April 1 and May 21, 2020 and suggested that the compulsory wearing of face masks should be continued to prevent a second wave of the infection in the fall or winter.
What About Kids? Are There Masks Suitable for Them?
There has been much debate over whether or not kids should wear protective masks. The advice from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is that children over the age of 2 should wear cloth masks when out and about to limit the spread of infection.
These can be reusable cloth masks or disposable surgical masks, and should be a good fit covering the nose and mouth.
The usual safety measures should be taken when helping a child to wear a mask. If you are helping them put it on, ensure that your hands are clean before touching the mask.
Children aren’t recommended to wear masks when at home with their usual family members, but encouraged to wear them outside the home when they are likely to be at a distance of less than six feet from other people.
While the CDC says that ideally N95 masks should be reserved for healthcare workers, they are recommended for children who are at greater susceptibility of infections or immunocompromised.
You may be interested to know that the 3M 1804S mask is a smaller version of a regular N95 mask, and so is suitable for smaller adults and for children, as long as it is a secure fit.
If your child is reluctant to wear a mask, there are a number of techniques you can employ to make it easier.
- Make it easy for them by wearing one yourself and get them used to seeing you around the home with your mask on.
- Try putting a face mask on one of their favorite toys. This will allow them to role-play with the mask as a theme, and see it as a non-threatening way to stay safe.
- Once they agree to put on a mask, get them to practice wearing it at home before going out in public. This way, they will feel less self-conscious and will be more likely to keep it on for longer periods.
- Be sure to reinforce the message that just as you should try not to touch your face, you should also stop yourself from touching your mask.
- And don’t forget to encourage frequent hand-washing as part of your everyday routine.
Valves: Why We Need Them and Why We Don’t
If N95 masks are new to you, you may be wondering about these valves and what their purpose is.
While it is the mask itself that filters the air the wearer breathes in, offering protection against droplets, bacteria, and viruses in the air, the valve serves a different purpose.
It works in one direction to allow exhaled air from the wearer escape. When you exhale, the valve will open, allowing heat, moisture, and carbon dioxide that would otherwise accumulate in the mask to be released, thus giving the wearer a more comfortable experience.
When the wearer stops exhaling, the valve closes to offer a high level of protection.
Some critics say that if the wearer of the mask is infected themselves, then the valve allows contaminants to be released in the atmosphere. But others say that this is only a concern in an operating theater or room, for example, which must be kept sterile, and is not necessarily a concern for everyday use.
N95 masks with valves are most valuable for people who need to wear a face mask for prolonged periods. These groups include healthcare professionals and care or community workers on long shifts.
They are also very useful for people who would otherwise be reluctant to wear a mask at all due to concerns about feeling uncomfortable or not breathing easily.
It’s also worth knowing that having a valve in your N95 masks will prevent the lenses of eyeglasses from fogging up — another advantage of these models.
How to Wear a 3M N95 Mask
If you’ve read this far, you will now be knowledgeable about the value of wearing an N95 respirator or mask, know a little about some of their features, and understand the health benefits of wearing a mask.
If you’ve decided to go ahead and order an N95 mask for your or a loved one’s protection, you will want to know how to wear it correctly as its effectiveness will depend on its proper use.
So here’s our mini guide to wearing your 3M N95 mask confidently for maximum protection.
- The first thing to know is that you must not have any facial hair such as a beard, mustache, or sideburns. This is because any hair that is adjacent to the mask’s seal will cause it to leak and lose its protective qualities.
- Before picking up your N95 mask, wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water.
- Cup your mask in one hand and let the straps dangle down to the front of the mask.
- Now place the mask flat to your face and place the bottom strap over your head and to the back of your neck.
- Then, place the top strap over the top portion of your head. Do this in front of a mirror so you can see that the mask is centered, and feels like a snug seal over the nose and mouth.
- Next, mold the mask tightly to the bridge of your nose with the first and second fingers of each hand to create an even pressure.
- The next step is to check the mask’s seal. Cup your hands gently over your mask and take a deep breath in. The mask should suck against your face.
- Perform the same procedure, but this time take a breath out into the mask. You should only feel air exit the mask around the nose area alone.
- Finally, wash your hands again with soap and water after you take off your mask.
How Long Does a 3M N95 Mask Last?
The first thing to know is that 3M N95 masks have a shelf life of five years from their date of manufacture, as long as they are stored correctly and in their original packaging.
Know that your 3M N95 mask is made for durability, so you can wear it for several hours at a time without it losing its effectiveness.
In an ideal world, you would wear a new N95 mask every two days, as research has shown that their filtration efficiency stays at 95 percent during this time frame.
But if that’s not possible, there are effective ways of cleaning and disinfecting your mask to make it good to wear for several uses.
The CDC says that in times of shortage, an N95 mask can be used up to five times as long as it isn’t shared between different people. And if masks are heavily soiled with bodily fluids, they should be discarded.
It also says that healthcare practitioners, for example, could consider wearing a face shield over their mask for maximum protection. Clean gloves should also be used when taking off or putting on a mask, and frequent hand hygiene should be performed too.
The CDC goes on to suggest a routine for safe use of N95 masks for healthcare professionals. It says they could be issued with five N95 respirators, each to be used on a single day of the week, cleaned and kept in a breathable paper bag until their next use. This regime means that the masks are stored for more than 72 hours before their next use, this being the maximum amount of time that the SARS-CoV2 virus can survive. Nevertheless, masks should be handled carefully as if they are still potentially infected with the virus.
How Do You Clean an N95 Mask?
There are a number of ways of effectively cleaning and decontaminating an N95 mask.
You can expose it to radiation (irradiate it), fumigate it — which is disinfecting it with the fumes of effective chemicals — bake it, steam it, or heat it in hot water.
Cleaning and decontaminating should also be carried out without damaging the filtration system, and the mask should keep its shape and fit the wearer properly and safely after the process.
If you opt for steaming or boiling your mask, you will need to pace it in steam at a temperature of 260 degrees Fahrenheit or submerge it in boiling water for three minutes. This will allow disinfection of the mask without affecting its filtration ability.
When boiling, don’t be tempted to keep stirring your mask as you could damage it.
If you are going to bake your mask clean, you will need to use an oven that is not for food preparation to avoid contamination. Using this method, you should heat your mask for 30 minutes at a temperature of 160 degrees Fahrenheit.
You should also know which cleaning methods are not recommended for cleaning N95 masks, which are to wash it in soapy water or spray it with alcohol or a liquid solution. This is because these methods can break down the mask’s filtration component and drastically reduce its effectiveness.
N95 Masks: Busting the Myths
You may have heard reports in the media that N95 masks aren’t safe to use — and even that they can kill you.
Claims have been rife all over social media that wearing a face mask will limit the wearer’s intake of oxygen, making them breathe in elevated levels of carbon dioxide, causing faintness, or even provoking seizures or suffocation.
This follows an article by retired neurosurgeon Dr. Russell Blaylock, who listed headaches and increased carbon dioxide levels to “serious life-threatening complications” as side effects of wearing a face mask.
To investigate these stories, pediatrician Dr. Rebekah Diamond from Columbia University Medical Center posted readings of her carbon dioxide levels after wearing an N95 mask all day on social media. Her PCO2 (the concentration of carbon dioxide in the blood) level was found to be 36.4 millimeters of mercury (abbreviated to mmHg). The normal range is between 35 and 45 mmHg, proving that Dr. Diamond’s levels were well within the normal range.
She commented, “Don’t let fake science enable unsafe decisions.”
While wearers may feel uncomfortable wearing masks for prolonged periods, this should not be mistaken for high carbon dioxide levels.
Another of Dr. Blaylock’s claims was that when people wore masks, exhaled viruses would not be able to escape and would end up penetrating the brain and wreaking all kinds of havoc.
This prompted Dr. Shelly Payne, Director of the LaMontagne Center for Infectious Disease, to come forward and say that there was no scientifically proven link to back up this claim.
She went on to say that people should carry on wearing face masks as it isn’t possible to know who is and isn’t infected with viruses such as the coronavirus because there are simply not enough testing kits to go round. Dr. Payne suggested that in the interest of everyone’s health and well-being, people should continue wearing face masks “for as long as necessary.”
You can read more about these claims and counter-claims on The Science Times website.
Other myths in circulation about face masks include the supposition that if you’re not sick, then you don’t need to wear a mask. We already know that people can be infected with the coronavirus without showing any symptoms. In these cases, the carriers may be careless about keeping their coughs and sneezes away from others, and may unknowingly pass it on to the community. This means it makes sense for everyone to wear a mask to keep infection rates low.
It’s important to know that even if you’re wearing a mask, you still need to practice social distancing, avoid large groups of people, and wash your hands with soap and water frequently.
And those who think that their face masks just needs to cover their mouth should think again. Any face mask should cover both your nose and your mouth, and should be a tight — but not restricted — fit.
If you do find wearing a mask an uncomfortable experience, there are steps you can take (though you certainly shouldn’t worry about carbon dioxide poisoning). Ensuring that your mask is a good fit and even investing in an N95 masks with a valve to expel heat, moisture, and carbon dioxide levels is a good solution. Consider the 3M 8210v and 3M 8511 types of 3M N95 masks, which have an integrated valve to serve this very purpose.
The Different Types of the 3M N95 Mask
The range of 3M N95 masks is wide and varied to help you choose the exact mask for you, your co-workers, or your family members. Let’s take a look at what each of these masks has to offer. Note that all of these models are available from the Clinical Supplies website. Contact us for any additional information and support.
3M 8210 Mask
The 3M 8210 mask is the go-to mask for a comfortable fit which also offers excellent protection against airborne particle such as viruses, dusts, and other undesirable elements.
Because it can be worn for extended periods, it’s a good choice for professionals or for individuals who appreciate the combination of protection with comfort.
3M 8210 Plus Mask
The 3M 8210 Plus mask is a great choice for anyone seeking a lightweight and comfortable mask. For these reasons, it’s especially suited for anyone who needs to wear a protective mask for long periods of time, such as professionals involved in construction, manufacturing, food processing, or healthcare.
Like any of our N95 masks or 3M respirators, the 3M 8210 Plus offers superior fit and protection against inhaling airborne particles while still allowing easy, comfortable breathing.
3M 8210v Mask
The 3M 8210v mask is meticulously designed to keep the wearer cool and comfortable with some special features. Its Cool Flow™ valve helps to reduce the accumulation of heat in the mask, allowing the wearer to breathe freely and comfortably.
The mask is reinforced with foam to cushion the nose area, as well as an adjustable nose clip to ensure a tight and safe seal. A customized fit is enhanced by the double head straps.
3M 8200 Mask
The practical 3M 8200 model protects against a whole range of particles such as sand, dust, and the by-products of manufacturing, as well as natural emissions such as pollen.
As a lightweight and economical choice, it’s ideal for anyone looking to bulk-buy for manufacturing or healthcare purposes. It’s especially important to note that it can reduce the risk of inhaling biological particles like mold and viruses, and so can reduce the risk of contracting infections.
3M 1860 Mask
The 3M 1860 mask is specially designed with healthcare professionals in mind, providing protection against the inhalation of some biological particles as well as being moisture-resistant, therefore protecting against blood and other bodily fluids.
Meeting CDC guidelines against Mycobacterium tuberculosis, it also helps to filter out other bacteria and viruses. In fact, it boasts a 99 percent bacterial filtration efficiency rating.
It’s a reliable and safe choice for anyone working in the healthcare field or caring for sick loved ones at home or in the community.
3M 9010 Mask
Its webbing on the inner panel means it is comfortable to wear. It’s lightweight too, making it ideal for prolonged use in healthcare, manufacturing, at home, in the community or in public.
3M 8511 Mask
The unique design of the 3M 8511 mask incorporates the M nose clip which provides the wearer with a comfortable experience.
The design also includes a Cool Flow™ valve to help reduce heat buildup and aid easy breathing.
This practical, multi-featured mask is ideal for use at work or at home. It works especially well with wearers with sensitive skin or those who do not enjoy wearing masks.
3M 1804S Mask
Designed to be worn in the operating theater, the 3M 1804S mask is the go-to mask for surgical settings, or in any healthcare situation such as caring for loved ones at home.
Its special features include protection against a range of airborne particles, and resistance to the splash and splatter of bodily fluids including blood.
With a nose clip that can be adjusted to the wearer’s unique facial dimensions and V-shape pleats, it’s a safe and comfortable wear for anyone in a healthcare setting.
What’s also great about this mask is that it is smaller than a regular mask, so it can provide a comfortable fit for smaller adults or children.
Why Is It So Difficult to Source N95 Masks? What Can I Do?
Now that you have read up on the benefits of N95 masks and their superior abilities to safeguard against bacteria and viruses, you may well be planning to build up your own supply at home or work.
But you might already have run into a problem: They are not easy to come by. Why is this?
The shortage of N95 masks was an issue as far back as the early days of the COVID-19 crisis in March 2020. Supplies soon started to dwindle and in the United States, the Federal Emergency Management Agency had to resort to drawing on its special reserve.
The situation has been particularly challenging in states worst-hit by the COVID-19 crisis: New York, Washington, and California.
Hospitals and other healthcare settings have had to ration out N95 masks to their medical and dental personnel as supplies continue to reduce more and more.
To give you an idea of the rate at which N95 masks are used in hospitals, a memo quoted in an article in USA Today at the beginning of the crisis in the United States in March said that one hospital alone — the NewYork-Presbyterian — was getting through 40,000 masks per day, and this number was expected to peak at 70,000 per day.
The memo went on to say that N95 masks would be rationed to one per healthcare professional, and that it should only be used if the person in question exhibited symptoms of illness. What’s more, staff would be responsible for keeping their masks clean and hygienic.
Before long, a campaign sprung up on social media — #GetMePPE — to ask the public to donate any spare items of PPE, including N95 respirators or masks.
Several months after the beginning of the outbreak, cases of COVID-19 are still on the rise in the United States, and it has a higher number of deaths than any other country in the world.
With some areas now emerging from lockdown, the demand for N95 masks and other PPE is set to continue and healthcare workers are being asked to continue to reuse masks and other items.
One of the reasons behind the ongoing demand for PPE is the lack of a central body distributing items to the healthcare facilities most in need. And it’s not just medical and dental establishments that need protective equipment such as N95 masks. Homes for the elderly and disabled, retail and catering outlets who deal with many people over the course of a single day, and ordinary members of the public are also in desperate need of easy access to protective equipment.
Thankfully, help in sourcing N95 masks to protect you and your loved ones is at hand. Clinical Supplies stocks a full range of N95 masks and 3M respirators, including models with valves and smaller models suitable for young adults and children. Please browse our N95 pages to view our full range of 3M masks now. With same-day shipping from San Diego, we are working round-the-clock to keep America safe.
Where Are N95 Masks Made? How Does This Affect How I Can Get a Supply?
Understanding a little more about where and how N95 masks are made explains the current shortage experienced throughout a lot of the United States, and can help you to know what to do to procure your own supply of valuable mask protection.
Before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic that took the world by storm, around half of the world’s masks were manufactured in China. Even though China stepped up production at this time as the pandemic ramped up, producing a phenomenal 115 million N95 masks a month, it still wasn’t enough to meet the increasing demand around the world.
Other crises worldwide had helped to deplete stocks of the masks, namely the wildfires that broke out in Australia and California.
And remember that the COVID-19 outbreak in China started a couple of months ahead of the spread across the rest of the world, in late 2019 to early 2020. This means that not only did China ring-fence supplies of N95 masks for itself around January this year, it also bought in stocks from countries across the world that weren’t yet experiencing the high levels of infection seen there.
And while many countries around the world began to impose restrictions on exports of N95 masks, the cycle continued.
By the time the pandemic started to take hold in the United States, supplies of N95 masks had already diminished drastically.
The good news is that 3M, one of the premier brands of N95 mask, has increased its production by double, now manufacturing 1.1 billion masks a year and 400 million in the US alone.
There are still some hurdles to overcome. Supply of one of the main materials for N95 masks, non-woven polypropylene which makes up the filter element of masks, is also limited.
And once production has been resumed and masks are available in good supply, there are also implications around distribution. Areas that have been affected the worst — namely Washington, New York, and California — may be thousands of miles apart, and so a logistical and organizational operation needs to be carefully managed.
Of course, these global and nationwide issues have a knock-on effect on those who really need N95 masks and other PPE items to keep them safe — those working in healthcare and in community settings, as well as regular workers and families who want to take proactive measures to keeping themselves and loved ones safe.
Rest assured that Clinical Supplies stocks a full range of quality 3M N95 masks, with a number of different types available — from the classic 3M 8210 mask that provides a comfortable and safe fit, to the 3M 8210v mask with its integral one-way valve to keep the wearer cool and comfortable, right through to the smaller 3M 1804S mask which provides a good fit for the younger adult and child.
Don’t hesitate to contact us to know more about our full range of 3M N95 masks and other PPE gear.
What Other Items of PPE Can I Use with My N95 Mask?
If you’re concerned about the transmission of infection, there are other items of PPE that you can use alongside your N95 face mask to keep yourself as safe and protected as possible.
A face shield can be effective in halting viral spread. A regular face shield consists of a visor attached to a head band, which extends below the chin and covers the whole face and ears too, offering protection to the wearer.
What’s really good about the face shield is that it can be reused many times, as long as it is cleaned thoroughly after each use. It also acts as a barrier to stop the wearer from touching their face.
It’s also good to know that a face shield on its own (without a mask) can aid communication, as the wearer’s facial expressions can be seen.
They are a valuable piece of protective clothing for children or adults who struggle to wear face masks or find them too restrictive, including those who have sensitive skin or other skin conditions.
And they’re not just good for healthcare professionals. For people working in the retail, banking, and catering industries who serve many customers on a daily basis, face shields add an extra layer of safety.
What’s more, they’re easy to wear and keep on, and so can be a very effective weapon in the fight against infection.
They have proven benefits — initial studies have shown that they can cut down on exposure to viruses by 96 percent within 18 inches of coughing.
You’ll find high-quality face shields among our range of PPE accessories for sale on the Clinical Supplies site. Buy them in packs of 10 — an economical option for individuals or families, or in quantities of 50, 100, or 500 suitable for professional organizations to buy in bulk.
When used properly, nitrile gloves, made of a synthetic type of rubber, can offer protection against infection.
If you are caring for a patient or loved one who has COVID-19 or another infection, nitrile gloves can protect you when you are in direct contact with that person, handling their dishes or laundry, or cleaning their living quarters.
But it’s important to know that if you’re wearing nitrile gloves, you have to follow the rules around frequent hand-washing and not touching your face with your hands all the same.
Contamination is more likely to take place when you’re putting on or taking off your gloves, so you must be aware of how to do this properly. Wash your hands before you put on your gloves, and inspect them for damage or dirt before you do so. Finally, make sure that they are pulled right up so that they cover your wrists.
You can buy nitrile gloves online with Clinical Supplies. Available in boxes of 100 — perfect for household use — and of 300 and 1,000 suitable for healthcare institutions, they come in medium size to fit most adults, are ambidextrous, and are powder- and latex-free, giving you a safe and comfortable experience.
A surgical hat or cap is part of many healthcare professionals’ PPE, preventing germs from the scalp or hair from contaminating surgical areas.
They can be worn in conjunction with surgical or N95 face masks, face shields, and other PPE to protect vulnerable patients undergoing surgery and to prevent infection of wounds.
Surgical hats are not usually worn outside of healthcare settings.
What Else Should I Be Doing to Reduce the Risk of Infection?
Having read our guide so far, you will now know the value of wearing a face mask to reduce the risk of infection to yourself and others. It is clear that they are a valuable part of keeping yourself and the community around you safe and well.
You will also know that a face mask alone cannot provide a guarantee against all infections, but is still an essential part of a multifaceted approach to cleanliness and infection control to keep you as safe as possible.
As well as wearing an effective face mask such as an N95 respirator, there are many other actions you can take to look after your health and safety, especially during the current COVID-19 health crisis. When these are used in combination, you have a powerful arsenal of weapons against infection that will protect you and your family.
Let’s take a closer look at how you can arm yourself against COVID-19 and other infections, examining the value of hand-washing, the use of sanitizer, and the sense behind social distancing.
The Value of Hand-Washing
Frequent and correct hand-washing is the mainstay of your fight against infection. It’s a well-recognized phenomenon in protection against disease as many research projects have shown.
It’s important in the first instance to understand the link between hand hygiene and infection. Illnesses caused by viruses such as COVID-19 are spread when particles containing these viruses penetrate your body via the throat, nose, or eyes. This can happen when your contaminated hands touch your face, making contact with your eyes, for example.
Did you know that people tend to touch their faces every two to five minutes? In fact, a study (5) carried out in Australia found that the medical students observed touched their faces 23 times an hour, or approximately every two minutes. And 44 percent of these contacts involved a mucous membrane — that’s the eyes, nose, or mouth — which is how bacteria and viruses can enter the human body.
So it figures that one of the simplest and most effective ways of stopping the spread of a virus is to wash your hands at regular intervals with soap and water.
While hand sanitizer is useful if you can’t get to a washroom, it’s the soap that really makes a difference.
Viruses like the SARS-CoV2 virus that causes COVID-19 have a fatty outer layer. Washing with soap cuts through this fatty membrane and renders the virus inactive and therefore harmless.
So, what’s the right technique for washing your hands effectively?
Step One: Get Your Hands Wet
The first step is easy. Simply get your hands wet under running water.
Step Two: Work Up a Lather
Using soap is the key to cleanliness. As mentioned, soap destroys the protective fatty layer around nasties such as viruses, so make sure you work up a lather to get rid of anything nasty lurking on your hands.
Step Three: Don’t Forget to Scrub for 20 Seconds
Scrub all parts of your hands, including the backs of your hands, in between your digits and under your fingernails for around 20 seconds. That’s about the perfect amount of time to sing “happy birthday,” so exercising your lungs at the same time as washing your hands will work as the perfect timer.
Step Four: Rinse, Rinse, and Rinse Again
Rinse your hands with fresh, running water to get rid of all the lather and the germs down the plughole.
Step Five: Dry Your Hands Thoroughly
Make sure you dry your hand thoroughly with a clean towel or a one-use paper towel to finish off your routine hygienically.
If you want to use hand sanitizer after your cleaning routine, choose a brand that contains at least 60 percent alcohol for maximum effectiveness and rub it in for another 20 seconds.
It’s also good to know when to wash your hands. Use our mini guide below to prompt you:
- When you come home from public areas such as shopping malls, public transport, or anywhere populated outside of the home
- After sneezing, blowing your nose, or coughing
- After touching money
- After contact with someone who is sick
- Before eating, and afterward as well
- After using the bathroom
- After handling trash or dirty items
- After handling animals, including pets
- After changing your baby’s diaper or helping children with their toileting
- If your hands are dirty or contaminated in any way
Tips to Help You Teach Your Child to Hand-Wash Effectively
Education is also key in helping to prevent the spread of infection, so what better start in life than to teach your child how to wash their hands effectively?
- Make it easy for them by providing a stool so they can reach the sink independently.
- Provide some fun hand soaps that they can enjoy using.
- Give them a timer so they can know how long the obligatory 20 seconds of hand-washing lasts for.
These tips will encourage your child to take ownership of their own personal hygiene and practice good hand-washing — a habit that should last a lifetime.
What About Hand Sanitizer?
As we’ve seen before in this article, the “gold standard” of hand hygiene is to use soap and water to eliminate as many bacteria and viruses as possible. But when they are not available, hand sanitizer plays a useful role especially when you are traveling or for any reason away from adequate washing facilities.
It’s important to know that you shouldn’t use hand sanitizer instead of washing if your hands show signs of dirt or residue on them. In this case, soap and water is the recommended option, so make plans to find them as soon as you can.
It’s also important to know that alcohol-based hand sanitizer is known to be less effective than hand-washing in getting rid of the particles of certain bacteria like Clostridioides difficile, which causes diarrhea. But sanitizer is believed to act against all viruses except norovirus, so are a useful tool in the current health crisis.
As mentioned, ensure that any hand sanitizer you use contains at least 60 percent alcohol for effectiveness. Note that some brands of hand sanitizer can contain up to 95 percent alcohol.
Apply enough hand sanitizer to cover all the surfaces of your hands adequately. Then rub your hands together to the point where they feel dry. This should take about 20 seconds.
Don’t wash off the sanitizer or wipe it dry as this will affect its ability to kill germs. Just let it air-dry naturally.
Supervise children using hand sanitizer and take care to ensure that they don’t put it in their mouth.
We’ve all heard of the term “social distancing” or “physical distancing” — but what does it actually mean and why is it important? And is it still necessary if you are wearing an N95 mask?
Social distancing means keeping an adequate amount of space between you and another person to limit the spread of germs such as the coronavirus.
One of the reasons it’s so important is that people can spread viruses even if they don’t have any symptoms themselves or don’t feel sick. They won’t necessarily know to isolate themselves to protect the community around them.
And scientific evidence has shown that social distancing really can save lives.
A recent study (6) looking at the effect of social distancing in São Paolo City and State in Brazil found that it inhibited the growth of COVID-19 infections, saving lives and safeguarding the health service, as well as altering the trajectory of the pandemic there.
It also proposed that a “Social Distancing Index” greater than 55 percent (that is, more than 55 percent of the population practicing social distancing) is required to prevent deaths. This means that social distancing is everyone’s responsibility and something that we can all do to make our communities safer.
So what does social distancing look like in the United States? Here, it is recommended that people maintain a distance of six feet, which is equivalent to about two arms’ length.
It’s especially important when you are outside of the home in public places, and for people who are vulnerable to illness through chronic poor health.
Even if you are wearing protective accessories like an N95 respirator, you will still need to observe social distancing rules. Combining these sensible precautions will reduce your chances of contracting an infection, and will also protect those around you should you unknowingly be carrying a viral or bacterial infection.
How Can I Protect Vulnerable Family Members at Home?
If you’re living with vulnerable family members, you may have concerns about how to protect them from infection when you are living in close proximity.
First, know who is most at risk of becoming seriously ill with diseases such as COVID-19. Anyone over the age of 65 is especially vulnerable, as is a person of any age with a serious underlying medical condition. These can include:
- Those with asthma or a chronic disease affecting the lungs
- Those with heart conditions
- Those who are immunocompromised, which can include patients undergoing treatment for cancer or people who take immune-suppressing medication on a regular or long-term basis
- Those who are severely overweight or obese
- Those with diabetes
- Those with kidney disease
- Those with liver disease
If one of your household members matches this description, here are some tips on keeping them safe:
- Restrict trips outside the home.
- Nominate one or two household members who are at a lower risk of infection to go outside.
- When venturing outside, take protective measures such as wearing an N95 mask to reduce the risk of spreading or contracting infections.
- Be extra vigilant if you have to use public transport.
- Maintain social distancing when out in public.
- Wash your hand with soap and water when you return home.
If one of your household members becomes sick, you will need to take some special precautionary measures:
- Isolate them in a self-contained bedroom and bathroom if possible.
- Nominate one member of the household to care for the sick person.
- If you have no option but to share a bedroom or bathroom with the sick person, then ensure that shared areas have good ventilation by opening windows as much as possible.
- The sick person should clean and disinfect the bathroom after using it.
- The sick person should not prepare food, and should eat separately from the rest of the household.
To learn more about how you can prevent the spread of infections, including coronavirus, see UNICEF’s tips and guidance.
What Does the Future Look Like? Are N95 Masks Here to Stay?
N95 masks and other PPE items have quickly established themselves as a regular part of our everyday lives in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis. Once considered specialist equipment, now N95 masks have proven that they bring many benefits to professionals and non-professionals alike.
But are they likely to be a common sight for some time to come? Let’s take a look at the picture around the world and the United States to understand more.
While some countries around the world can claim to have the first wave of COVID-19 under control, experts predict that a second wave of the disease is inevitable and could be more deadly than the first.
It’s worth remembering that the second wave of the Spanish flu in the United States was the deadliest. While the first wave started in March 1918, the second wave which struck in fall of the same year took most of the lives attributed to the pandemic. There was also a third wave that played out in winter and spring of 1919. In total, more than 500,000 people lost their lives in the US due to the Spanish flu, and it’s believed there were up to 50 million victims in total around the world.
They say that history repeats itself, so could we see a similar series of waves of COVID-19?
According to the experts, there are certain triggers for second waves of epidemics to occur.
One of these is lifting lockdown restrictions too far or too early. If restrictions are lifted, other measures need to be in place to ensure the public’s safety as much as possible.
These include contact tracing apps and continuing to encourage people to wear face masks to limit the spread of infection. So, it seems to be a sensible precaution to continue wearing your N95 mask, even if lockdown is lifted in your area — even more so should a second wave of COVID-19 hit the United States as soon as September 2020, according to this article.
Before then, Americans may well experience increasing cases in “hot spots” all over the country during the summer, with them working up to a peak in fall or at the beginning of winter.
And in the same article, Mark Jarrett, Chief Quality Officer for Northwell Health, is quoted as saying that areas where people don’t practice social distancing or continue to wear face masks will be worst affected.
As we slide into fall and winter, the conditions for infection will be ramped up. People will be spending less time outside and more time in restricted and less-well ventilated places indoors.
As the current COVID-19 crisis is a new experience, we simply don’t know how it will pan out and where it will end.
Experts agree that continuing to follow the CDC’s advice of frequent hand-washing, maintaining social distancing, and wearing face masks in public is the best way to avoid being struck down by a second wave of the deadly disease, lockdown or no lockdown.
The Ultimate in Protection Against Infection
Our dive into the world of N95 masks and other protective measures against the current COVID-19 pandemic has revealed many insights to help us protect ourselves and our families from the threat of infection, as well as other environmental contaminants.
We’ve learned about what face masks can protect you from, and that there are actually many different types of the 3M N95 mask. By now, you should be well-versed in masks’ features such as valves to give the wearer a more comfortable experience, and the fact that different sizes are available for everyone in the family.
We also know a little about other protective equipment that can be used in conjunction with face masks.
We’ve learned about the issues around sourcing N95 masks and the fact that they are in demand all over the world — a testament to their benefits and protective qualities.
We even have a picture of what the future is going to look like following the current wave of the pandemic, and know about the possibility of further waves.
Most importantly, we’ve reinforced how combining other safety measures with wearing an N95 respirator or mask is the ultimate in protection against infection. In fact, it’s the knowledge we’ve gained in this article that will help us going forward as we could face a second — or even third — wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The takeaway is to keep in mind the recommended protective measures at all times:
- Frequent and correct hand-washing
- Social distancing
- Appropriate use of PPE, including N95 masks
It’s this knowledge that gives us the power to protect ourselves against what is already here and what is to come.
Reach Out to Us
At Clinical Supplies USA, our core mission is to keep America safe, now and in the future. We have a full range of PPE in stock, including N95 masks, N95 respirators, and KN95 masks.
Offering same-day shipping from San Diego, we understand the urgency of delivering your protective goods in a timely fashion.
Please reach out to us if you have any queries about our products, so our friendly team can guide and advise you.
(1) Seto W, Tsang D, Yung R, Ching T, Ng T, Ho M, Peiris J. 2003. ‘Effectiveness of precautions against droplets and contact in prevention of nosocomial transmission of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS),’ The Lancet, 361(9368): 1519–1520.
(2) Mitze T, Kosfeld R, Rode J, Wälde K. 2020. ‘Face masks considerably reduce COVID-19 cases in Germany: a synthetic control method approach,’ IZA Institute of Labor Economics.
(3) Chu D, Akl E, Duda S, Solo K, Yaacoub S, Shünemann H. 2020. ‘Physical distancing, face masks, and eye protection to prevent person-to-person transmission of SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19: a systematic review and meta-analysis,’ The Lancet, 10.1016/S0140-6736(20)31142-9 [Epub ahead of print].
(4) Lyu W, Wehby G. 2020. ‘Community Use Of Face Masks And COVID-19: Evidence From A Natural Experiment Of State Mandates In The US,’ Health Affairs, 101377hlthaff202000818. Doi: 10.1377/hlthaff.2020.00818. Online ahead of print.
(5) Kwok Y, Gralton J, McLaws M. 2014. ‘Face touching: A frequent habit that has implications for hand hygiene,’ American Journal Of Infection Control, 3 (2): 112-114.
(6) De Brito Cruz H. 2020. ‘Social distancing in São Paolo State: demonstrating the reduction In Cases Using Time Series Analysis Of Deaths Due To COVID-19’, Revista Brasileira de Epidemiologia, vol.23 Epub: https://doi.org/10.1590/1980-549720200056.