With the coronavirus pandemic a lot has changed in our lives, the United States included. This respiratory virus was first discovered in December of last year as a new coronavirus species. Like most coronaviruses, this one causes a respiratory illness, but it seems to be more deathly and serious than other coronavirus illnesses.
The SARS-CoV-2, the name given to this new coronavirus, is responsible for the COVID-19. This acronym means “coronavirus disease 2019” and it’s how the illness caused by the virus is called. While most people experience very little and mild symptoms, there are people at higher risk of getting a severe form of the illness.
Since this is a respiratory infectious disease, prevention is based on what is called “respiratory hygiene”. This includes covering the face when coughing or sneezing, social distancing, and using face masks to prevent the release of droplets that contain the virus. Since most cases are asymptomatic, people can be infected and not know it, that’s why using a face mask is so important.
The term “N95 respirator” has been said a lot, and most people have heard or read it by now. We know it’s the best face mask for virus protection, with more properties than surgical or medical face masks, and certainly better than reusable ones. But, why are they called ‘respirators’? What does that mean? We’ll explain more about this in this article.
What is a respirator?
The pandemic has brought about many questions and doubts, especially about medical terms the general public was previously not familiar with. With all this talk about ventilators and respirators, it’s easy to get lost and not know what experts are talking about on the television or online. Here’s a little clarification.
The word respirator refers to the act of respiration, also known as breathing, meaning the process of inhaling and exhaling. Respirators are masks or mask-like devices that are worn to cover the mouth and/or the nose, this way preventing the inhalation of dangerous particles. Respirators have a filter material that traps these particles.
Right now, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends healthcare workers and first responders, as well as high-risk populations and people who are taking care of confirmed cases of COVID-19, to use respirators like the N95 respirators. The rest of the population has been instructed to practice social distancing rules, respiratory hygiene, and to wear reusable masks when they’re in public settings.
It’s important to point out that not every disposable face mask is a respirator. N95 masks are considered respirators, but surgical or medical face masks are not. Some of the most popular models of N95 respirators are 3M N95 masks, like the 3M 8511 or 3M 8210. KN95 masks are also considered respirators, but they’re regulated under different standards than N95 masks, which are regulated under the American standards for respirators.
N95 masks: why are they important?
N95 masks, which are also known as N95 respirators, are a very specific type of face mask that is superior for antiviral protection than surgical face masks. These are used currently as protection against the coronavirus by healthcare workers and first responders. This is why they should be prioritized for these workers, while the general public should use other types of face coverings.
N95 means that the respirator isn’t resistant to oil, and that it can filter out at least 95% of all airborne particles. The name comes from a classification of respirators established by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, or NIOSH for short. This institution makes sure work environments are safe in the USA, so that work-related injuries and illnesses are prevented from happening.
In this classification, oil resistance is indicated by one of three letters: N, R, or P, indicating that the respirator is not resistant, resistant, or oil-proof. Then comes a number that indicates the percentage of airborne particles the respirator can filter out, also known as the minimum particulate filtration efficacy, which can be 95, 99, or 100%.
N95 respirators can filter out 95% of non-oil based particles in the air that are also airborne, which means they have a diameter of 0.3 microns. This makes N95 masks effective for particles that include smoke, dust, and viruses like the coronavirus or the flu. This is why they’re so important for protection in high-risk populations, like first responders or older people.
A face mask can only be called an N95 respirator if it’s been approved by NIOSH. This indicates that the respirator has been regulated and tested by the institution, and they meet the criteria to be considered as that type of respirator. If it’s not approved by NIOSH, anyone who uses that respirator is in danger of inhaling the harmful particles mentioned before.
We all must stay protected during these trying times. Our healthcare workers are working hard and exposing themselves to the virus every day, and they must have the proper protection. Face shields, KN95 masks, N95 respirators, and other types of medical supplies need to be prioritized for them.
You can find other types of face coverings, like reusable cloth masks, for sale online, where you can buy them in bulk or wholesale. For the little ones, it’s important to always buy a smaller size meant for kids, since adult-sized masks won’t protect them. We would like to remind everyone to stay protected in public settings.