COVID-19 is currently one of the main problems affecting the majority of the countries around the world. The United States is preparing to face a second wave during the fall, which will likely be worsened by the fusion with the flu season. Both respiratory viruses can lead to a collapse in the healthcare system, leaving a public health crisis even worse than it was before.
This collapse of the healthcare system will come in many forms, and one of them is the shortage of many necessary supplies. The most important one, the N95 respirator, is an essential part of the PPE used by workers to protect themselves against the virus. Let’s have a look at what we can expect regarding N95 masks during this second wave of cases.
Surge of COVID-19 cases in the United States and the shortage of N95 masks
The fall is predicted to be the season for a COVID-19 surge, which is also expected to merge with the flu season. This is a big concern for healthcare centers that are still reportedly experiencing shortages of all types of personal protective equipment (PPE), especially N95 respirators. The levels of PPE in many healthcare centers are below the recommended ones by experts, as reported by the Wall Street Journal. States have been trying to build stockpiles of N95 masks, but the increase in coronavirus cases is slowing down those efforts. For example, just last Wednesday, the USA reported an all-time-high of coronavirus cases with over 100,000 new cases in one day.
Mike Roman, Chief Executive from 3M, one of the biggest and most important manufacturers of PPE and N95 masks at the moment, told the Wall Street Journal that N95 mask demand is still too high, being greater than what they can supply, and said they could see this demand continuing until 2021. Even though the company is on track to produce almost 100 million 3M N95 masks (including the 3M 8210 and 3M 8511 models) per month in the USA this year, which is over four times what they produced before the pandemic, the number of cases and the demand for PPE is still surpassing their production capacity. Another big company, Honeywell International, along with other important companies, is producing a minimum of 20 million N95 respirators per month inside the US.
This new wave of coronavirus cases across the country is threatening the supply of healthcare workers who need this item to keep working. The initial shortage at the beginning of the pandemic left many hospitals and other healthcare facilities knowing that they had to start stockpiling N95 masks for the future.
But, these new records of cases each day is leaving healthcare workers across the nation reusing the PPE they get once again, and the fear of running out is imminent among the healthcare profession. In New Mexico, just last week, almost 90% of the hospitals were reusing N95 respirators following the emergency guidelines offered by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In Michigan, it’s been reported that two-thirds of the healthcare centers have less than three weeks-worth of N95 masks and other medical supplies, like gowns or surgical face masks. The recommendation across all hospitals is to have a stockpile of at least three months-worth of PPE.
The second wave of coronavirus cases has the potential to make the shortages worse than they were at the beginning of the pandemic. Even though during the summer shortages seemed to be alleviated, while remaining below the recommended levels, hospitalizations were declining so it wasn’t a big problem. Now, with the second wave approaching the country, the problem is predicted to be worse.
The demand from consumers seems to only be draining the supply of other types of face-coverings, like reusable cloth masks, KN95 masks, or face shields, since the general public is not using N95 respirators for protection. This comes as the CDC recommends prioritizing N95 masks for healthcare providers who need higher protection against the virus.
The importance of N95 masks
N95 masks are the best disposable face mask for virus protection, with antiviral properties that are not found in other types of face-coverings. They’re a type of respirator according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, or NIOSH, and they need to be reserved for healthcare workers and other first responders on the frontlines of the pandemic.
According to the classification, N95 masks are respirators without oil-resistance that have a percentage of minimum particulate filtration efficacy of 95%. This means they can effectively filter out 95% or less of the non-oil based particles in the air. This makes them a good option for protection in work fields, like construction or mining, with exposure to particles like dust or smoke.
But, these types of particles also include bioaerosols, such as viruses like the flu or the coronavirus, or bacteria like tuberculosis. For this reason, they’ve been a crucial part of the PPE in healthcare settings, since they are a great option to effectively protect the workers from COVID-19. Healthcare workers are at higher risks of exposure to the virus, which is why they need face masks with higher protection rates.
Anyone who uses any type of face-covering, including kids with face-coverings in a smaller size, is doing their job to stop the spread of the virus. You can find these products for sale online, with options to buy in bulk or wholesale too.