What does the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health say about the shortage of n95 masks?

If given the chance to rearrange Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, you might want to consider switching safety and self-actualization; Safe as the topmost level while self-actualization being a notch ahead of physiological needs. Why is this so? Because safety is the topmost priority nowadays. As the pandemic continues to test worldwide healthcare systems, safety is being strengthened.

Wearing a mask in public is one of the gestures in strengthening safety across the globe. According to health experts, wearing masks can help lessen the spread of the deadly coronavirus. However, not all masks offer appropriate and fortified protection. The N95 mask is the most recommended and the most in-demand mask.

What is an N95 mask?

An N95 mask is a sanitary facepiece respirator that is efficient in filtering particles and bacteria. With a filtration ability of 95%, the N95 mask is capable of protecting the wearer from the coronavirus. In the present times, medical health workers use the N95 mask more often because of its protection. Also, fields like Construction and Engineering acknowledge the efficiency of the N95 mask.

The N95 mask is considered to be the most in-demand mask in the market today because of its comfort and convenience. Medical experts suggest wearing the N95 mask for superior protection. Though the N95 mask is effective against the coronavirus, the mask is experiencing a massive scarcity. Supplies of the N95 mask are short in hospitals and medical supply chains. The N95 mask’s overwhelming demand made the mask scarce.

Organizations like the National Institute for Occupational Health and Safety (NIOSH), one of the regulating committees for the N95 mask, are alarmed by the shortage. The shortage of the N95 mask can have a negative ripple effect on the health of the health workers, and the people as well.

What is NIOSH’s take on the N95 mask shortage?

One of NIOSH’s goals is the promotion of safety in health workers by providing solutions and commendations. NIOSH adapts the regulations of the Center for Disease Control and Protection (CDC) that correspond to the shortage of the N95 mask. NIOSH is part of the Department of Health and Human Services in the United States, under CDC.

CDC released a guideline that pertains to the extension of use and restricted reusability of the N95 mask. Extending the use of the N95 mask pertains to the utilization for an even longer period without donning or doffing the mask. Also, the extension of utility of the N95 mask is appropriate to occasions where attending physicians and nurses encounter patients with similar respiratory conditions. This is advised as an alternative in preserving masks like the N95 mask in times of an outbreak.

Restricted 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. 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.

Before reusing the N95 mask, several factors must be considered. Factors like the mask’s fit, color, and overall condition are taken into account before the N95 mask extension or reuse. Once the N95 mask is proven to be 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. 

This regulation of the CDC is also in response to the N95 mask shortage. In the published regulation, the CDC is allowing foreign facepiece respirators that work like the NIOSH-certified N95 mask. This action is in line with the International Respirator Assessment that assesses the filtration performance of the mask similar to the N95 mask.

As mentioned in the publication released by CDC, these masks are considered that are at par with the N95 mask in terms of performance.

  • The Australian counterpart, P2, and P3 masks work like the N95 mask. The P2 mask filters up to 94% of particles while the P3 mask filters up to 99.95% of particles.
  •  The FFP respirator series from the European Union are capable 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% and does not work like the N95 mask.
  • The KN95, KN100, DL2, and DL3 are also alternatives to the N95 mask. The KN series are Chinese counterparts while the DL or DS series is the Japanese counterpart. The KN95 and the DL 2 masks are similar to the N95 mask with 95% filtration. The KN100 and DL3 are the N99 mask counterparts with 99% filtration ability.

Along with the constant efforts of companies that supply and manufacture the N95 mask, these adapted regulations of NIOSH from the CDC can help medical health workers. Solutions like these must be followed accordingly to prevent contamination. As long as NIOSH and CDC are there, the welfare of medical health workers is ensured.

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