Since the beginning of the pandemic, the entire world and the USA has been facing a previously unknown threat. The new coronavirus species, first reported in December of last year, officially became a pandemic around February of this year. Since then, countless deaths and ill people have fallen victim to it, but the health issues aren’t the only ones to come from the pandemic.
Unemployment, mental health, and economic problems have come from the pandemic as well. But one issue in particular has been haunting many countries around the world, which is the shortages of medical PPE (personal protective equipment) and supplies. Items like face shields, surgical masks, reusable cloth masks, gowns, gloves, and particularly N95 respirators, have been scarce, and are necessary for healthcare workers to be protected.
In this article, we’ll discuss how the government has been dealing with this issue, and how the upcoming elections may or may not have an effect on the production of N95 respirators.
An explanation of N95 masks and their importance
N95 masks are also called respirators because they are part of the respirator classification established by NIOSH, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. They are in charge of testing and regulating respirators, making sure they meet the standards for each respirator type, as part of their responsibility to prevent work-related diseases or injuries.
Respirators are used in work settings where respiratory hazards are present. These are dangerous particles that, when exposed to them persistently and constantly, can result in severe health issues, like lung cancer or COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease). Respiratory hazards can be present in many different workplaces, and according to the type of particle it is, a type of respirator can be used.
The classification, established by NIOSH, groups and names respirators based on two main characteristics: resistance to oil and filtration efficacy. The first is indicated by the letter N, R, or P, meaning not resistant, resistant, and oil-proof, respectively. The latter is the percentage of minimum particulate filtration efficacy, which can be 95, 99, or 100%. This way, respirators can be named with the combination of those three letters and three numbers. For example, N99, R100, or P95.
N95 respirators are not resistant to oil and have a filtration percentage of 95%, meaning they can filter out at least 95% of all non-oil based airborne particles in the air. Such particles include dust and smoke, which is why these face masks can be found in mining or construction sites. But, viruses like the flu or the coronavirus are also non-oil based airborne particles, which is why N95 masks can be found in healthcare settings, and they are particularly during the pandemic, an essential item in these centers.
N95 masks are considered to be the best face mask for virus protection, with antiviral properties that surgical or other disposable face masks don’t have. Some of the most popular ones include 3M N95 masks, like the 3M 8210 or 3M 8511 models. Anyone who uses an N95 respirator is receiving the most virus protection you can receive from a face mask.
Election’s effect on the production of N95 respirators
The president’s authority to compel companies to increase their production of medical supplies and PPE, under the guarantee that the government will pay them, comes from the Defense Production Act (DPA). This law has been invoked many times over the years, and it was first invoked for its use on the pandemic in May of this year.
Despite the many claims the President has made about using the full power of the DPA for meeting the demands of the pandemic, which have intensified as the election campaign progressed, many of the administration’s use of that authority wasn’t about the pandemic or N95 masks. According to a White House report, the President has wielded the DPA around 80 times to solve the problem of N95 mask and medical supply shortages.
The nonpartisan Congressional Research Service analyzed the administration’s use of the DPA, and described it as “sporadic and relatively narrow”. They state that most of the Congress’ $1 billion that was allocated for the purchase of medical supplies and PPE under the DPA, was shifted to the Defense Department, spending most of this money on things unrelated to the pandemic, like shipbuilding and space surveillance.
Even though shortages have certainly eased since the beginning of the pandemic, healthcare centers like private practices and nursing homes are still being affected by the struggle to get a hold of medical PPE, particularly gowns and N95 respirators. During the fall, with the flu season coming and schools and colleges reopening, a new rise in coronavirus cases is expected, and with them, shortages will intensify.
With this danger in the future, the President’s promise to have 300 billion N95 masks in the United States’ emergency stockpile, made back in May, seemed to be the perfect solution. At the time, the stockpile only had 13 million, which was certainly not enough to face the pandemic.
300 million N95 masks could have been enough to be well-equipped for the pandemic, with healthcare workers being sure they would have the necessary protection. But, over 4 months later, the President hasn’t spoken about this promise, and according to a briefing document sent to senior officials in the Department of Health and Human dated September 25, the stockpile only has 87.6 million N95 masks.
The goal hasn’t been met or mentioned, and the fall is already here. So, it seems like the upcoming presidential elections haven’t had a positive, or any impact at all on the production of N95 masks.
For anyone looking to buy face masks in bulk or wholesale, plenty of options are available for sale online, including masks in smaller size for kids. Make sure to stay protected during these times.