N95 mask – the most trusted mask by medical workers in this time of crisis. The N95 mask is capable of filtering particles of 0.1 microns in size and bacteria of 3.0 microns in size. With its tight seal, the N95 mask ensures that leakage is not possible. Regulated by the National Institute for Occupational Health and Safety (NIOSH) and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the N95 mask is created for a specific purpose: to protect the wearer from being contaminated.
Aside from the field of Medicine, fields like Engineering, Construction, and Mining acknowledge the efficiency of the N95 mask. Particles like dust, mist, finer grains of sand, cement powder, and even volatile gases and vapor are filtered by the N95 mask.
With the given characteristics and capabilities, the N95 mask is experiencing a worldwide scarcity. Hospitals from across the globe are running out of stocks of the N95 mask. Online stores and Medical supply chains are having a hard time securing stocks of the N95 mask.
The CDC responded to the shortage of the N95 mask. In fact, the organization released two notable guidelines. These guidelines are in response to the N95 mask shortage.
Guidelines on the Extension and Restricted Reuse of the N95 mask
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) had established several practices pertaining to the extension of use and restricted reusability of the N95 mask. The term “Extension” pertains to the utilization of the N95 mask for an even longer period without donning or doffing the mask. Also, the extension of utility of the N95 mask is suitable for occasions where attending physicians and nurses encounter patients with similar respiratory conditions. This extension of utility is advised as an alternative in preserving masks like the N95 mask in times of a respiratory outbreak.
The term “Reuse” pertains to the removal of the N95 mask every after patient interaction. Proper donning (putting on) and doffing (removal) of the used N95 mask must be observed at all times. After doffing the N95 mask, the mask must be put in a storage container with a label as to how many times the mask has been used. The N95 mask can be reused up to five times. It is restricted reuse because the N95 mask is not supposed to be reused. The N95 mask is good for one-time utility and must be disposed of properly once used.
Prior to extending the shelf life or reusing the N95 mask, several factors must be considered. Factors like the mask’s fit, its color, and overall condition are taken into account prior to N95 mask extension or reuse. Once the N95 mask is proven to be in a good condition and is permitted, respiratory protection program administrators have to certify that guidelines have been followed to restrict N95 mask surface corruption. Along with the guidelines are supplementary training and notifications for healthcare workers.
Moreover, hospitals must formulate a procedure that advises their staff to observe mitigations that will lessen the transmission once donning is done. Here are some procedures:
- Disposal of the N95 mask once in contact with blood, phlegm, and other fluids that the body is capable of secreting;
- Consideration of utilizing a face shield over a donned N95 mask; and
- Practicing hygienic procedures such as hand washing, and alcohol disinfection before and after donning and doffing the N95 mask.
Utilization of Foreign Face-piece Respirators
This regulation of the CDC is also in response to the N95 mask shortage. In the published regulation, the CDC is considering foreign facepiece respirators that are at par with the NIOSH-certified N95 mask in terms of performance. This gesture of the CDC is in line with the International Respirator Assessment that assesses the filtration performance of the mask-like the N95 mask.
In identifying the dependability of foreign respirators there are several points to consider.
- Masks that are supplied from non-NIOSH approved manufacturers but observe the requirements of the nations that are listed in the FDA EUA must obtain a certification of consent by a legitimate laboratory endorsing that the mask meets the standards stipulated by CDC.
- Masks that are supplied from non-NIOSH approved manufacturers but do not have any certification of consent from a legitimate laboratory should be utilized in immediate situations when an N95 mask is unavailable.
- Masks that are manufactured from a NIOSH approved manufacturer like the N95 mask, which distributes masks that subscribe to a variety of standards from various countries must secure a publicized level of safety once the appropriate fit is attained.
In the stipulated publication of the CDC, several masks are considered that are at par with the N95 mask in terms of performance.
- Australian P2 and P3 masks are at par with the N95 mask. The P2 mask can filter up to 94% of particles while the P3 mask is capable of filtering up to 99.95% of particles.
- The FFP respirator series from the European Union is capable of alternatives to the N95 mask. FFP2 mask is capable of filtering up to 94% of particles while the FFP3 mask has a filtration ability of 99%. Only FFP2 and FFP3 are acceptable alternatives to the N95 mask. FFP1 mask’s filtration ability is only 80%.
- The KN95 and the KN100 and the DL2 and DL3 are also alternatives to the N95 mask. The KN series are from the Chinese counterpart and the DL or DS series are from the Japanese counterpart. The KN95 and the DL 2 masks work like the N95 mask as far as filtration is concerned. The KN100 and DL3 work like the N99 mask with a filtration ability of 99%.