There is an N95 mask shortage in the United States, yet state officials are not in denial of the fact that there are N95 mask stockpiles throughout the USA. Why then are healthcare workers in the country left to their own N95 mask reuse strategies for their own virus protection, knowing that the filter efficiency of such N95 mask is no longer at its best condition?
Main Reasons why N95 mask stockpile is not distributed
The first reason why N95 mask supplies are kept where they are is that they are beyond the shelf life designated by the N95 mask manufacturer. So, N95 mask supplies have been in stock pre-pandemic, yet when the pandemic came, such N95 mask stockpiles became inaccessible.
The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health then studied recommendations on whether or not the N95 mask stockpile beyond their shelf life may still be used during the pandemic. State officials have said beforehand that such N95 mask supplies are for emergency cases only. As to what constitutes an emergency case that should warrant the N95 mask supply release remains in question.
As such, NIOSH agreed that the N95 mask supply distribution may be considered in the outbreak of COVID-19. However, the N95 mask stockpile should be checked for visible damage, fit, and modifications. Where there remain no N95 mask supplies for healthcare workers to use, the N95 mask stockpile could be used as part of a contingency plan.
The second reason is the fit of the N95 mask stockpile which is said to be too big for the mostly female healthcare workforce. Knowing this, an N95 mask that has gaps around the edges carries risk instead of protection against the flu causing virus. Smoke, dust, and air particulates may still enter through the gaps of the N95 mask, and the health of the frontline worker, compromised.
Just how many N95 mask supplies are in the stockpile?
Washington alone is said to have a stockpile of over 30 million masks or about 100 masks for every healthcare worker in the state. For those scramming to buy N95 masks and N95 respirators for medical and surgical use, this could be alarming news.
It should be known that reusable face mask types are discouraged for healthcare workers. While many N95 mask supplies are disposable face mask types, N95 respirators for sale, on the other hand, maybe reusable so they have many uses. Yet, many still buy and stockpile N95 mask face masks for their antiviral efficiency.
However, great care should be exercised when a healthcare organization will buy N95 mask supplies in bulk, even at wholesale prices. The right size of the N95 mask should be bought. This is the main concern as N95 mask fit-testing is not often followed as a strict protocol. When you buy the N95 mask online, panic-buying to stockpile should be avoided. For the public, kn95 masks and face shields may be used, even for kids.
What types of N95 mask supplies are available?
Currently, the N95 mask stockpile in the country is 3M N95 masks. The N95 mask stockpile that NIOSH approved for use includes the 3M 8210 and 1860 face mask models. 3M 8511 and other models were not mentioned.
Other N95 mask supplies not made by 3M that is in the stockpile and fit for use include the Gerson 1730, Moldex 1512, 2201, and Medline/Alpha Protech NON27501.
According to NIOSH, these N95 mask models continue to perform in accordance with its performance standards despite extending the N95 mask manufacturer-designated shelf life. Protection from such N95 mask supplies remains OSHA-compliant as well.
NIOSH denied Kimberly-Clark 46827 and 46727 N95 mask models as it is said to be unable to provide the expected level of virus protection when past the normal N95 mask shelf life of 5 years. Keep in mind that the N95 mask manufacturer itself agreed that the N95 mask beyond its shelf life should be disposed of.
Should NIOSH increase the national N95 mask stockpile?
The N95 mask shortage considered buying and deploying half-mask respirators for emergency medical services during the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead of disposable N95 mask models, NIOSH considered EHMR face pieces with replaceable cartridges or filters.
Such a type of face mask may be cleaned and reused. Keep in mind that the N95 mask is for single-use only and then is disposable. Such a type of mask is not designed for reuse, but during the pandemic, healthcare workers had to re-use their N95 mask supplies for back-to-back shifts and extended periods.
EHMRs that offer the same level of protection as N95 mask supplies that are single-use are to be considered. The NIOSH’s National Personal Protective Laboratory is to evaluate and approve the EHMR facepieces.
Considerations for N95 mask stockpile use
Modifications should not be made to an N95 mask for the purpose of re-use. The design of the N95 mask may not be modified, for example, the replacement of the damaged N95 mask straps. For what the N95 mask is approved, the same should be sold and used. If the N95 mask is modified, the NIOSH approval will be considered void.
Furthermore, the N95 mask stockpile should only be used when no other respirators are left. Thus the N95 mask stockpile will be a crisis capacity strategy option. Where N95 mask supplies are still available for use or re-use, the N95 mask stockpile may not be used.