By now, we’re all aware of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has been the main threat the world faced this year. The SARS-CoV-2 is a respiratory virus that is a new coronavirus species, recently discovered just at the end of last year. The disease it causes has been called the coronavirus disease 2019, which is what COVID-19 stands for. The negative effects it causes on the human body are much more severe in older people and others with certain risk factors.
Even though this virus was unknown to scientists, they made an incredible effort all year long to understand how this virus works, and how to fight against it. They discovered pretty early in the year how the virus was spread: through fluid droplets. Then an infected person talks, breathes, sneezes, or coughs, they release these droplets that contain the viral particles, which when they reach the respiratory tract of a healthy person, they become infected. As the virus replicates and colonizes their airways, they damage it.
This explains why face masks have been such a prominent part of our year, with experts recommending them since the very beginning. But, there’s one mask you probably heard on the news inside the United States more than any other: the N95 mask. Considered the best face mask for protection against the virus, these masks have been a crucial item for healthcare workers who have been facing the virus very closely every day during the pandemic.
This led to an increase in the demand for these masks, resulting in shortages of all types of medical PPE affecting the USA. Healthcare centers around the country are struggling to keep their workers protected during the pandemic, and most states have reported these situations.
Today, we would like to go a little more in-depth about these masks, and their availability specifically in Kansas City.
What are N95 masks, and why are they so important right now?
NIOSH is an institution in the USA that regulates respirators, and they’re responsible for assigning the name of the N95 mask. This name indicates two key properties in these masks and is based on a naming system used by this federal agency to regulate them.
NIOSH stands for National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, and they’re a part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Their goal is to prevent work-related illnesses, and one of the things they do to achieve this is to approve respirators after they’ve been tested and evaluated by them to make sure they will perform and meet the criteria for each type inside their classification.
The NIOSH respirator classification is based on two things:
- First, is the resistance to oil, which is represented by the letter in the first half of the name. This letter can be either N, R, or P, meaning no resistance, some resistance, and the most resistance to oil, respectively.
- Then comes the filtration rate, represented on the second half of the name with a number that can be either 95, 99, or 100. These are percentages that indicate how many airborne particles the respirator can filter out.
It’s easy to conclude, after this explanation, that N95 masks filter out 95% of the airborne particles in the air that are not oil-based. These are particles that can travel through the air due to their small size of 0.3 micrometers (airborne) that don’t contain oil. Such particles include dust, smoke, pollen, some metals, and even viruses, including the flu virus and, of course, the SARS-CoV-2.
This is the reason why N95 respirators are the best disposable face mask for antiviral purposes, and they’re considered to be even better than surgical masks, the type of face masks most widely used in the healthcare field. But, N95 masks can have other uses in other work industries, like mining and construction, among others.
N95 masks shouldn’t be confused with KN95 masks, which are also respirators that filter out 95% of the non-oil-based airborne particles in the air. However, these respirators are not regulated by NIOSH, and they’re based on different filtration standards used in China. They’re not the same mask but can work as substitutes in case of emergencies.
In the healthcare setting, N95 masks are used as a part of several layers of PPE, which include face shields, surgical masks, gloves, gowns, and other items. Some popular models include the 3M 8210 and the 3M 8511, and for surgical procedures, the 3M 1860 are surgical 3M N95 masks.
Availability of N95 masks in Kansas City
Shortages of PPE have affected mainly the N95 mask, leading to healthcare centers having workers reuse their respirators after decontamination following the guidance provided by the CDC. They’ve also had to use alternatives, like KN95 masks or surgical masks, which are not always ideal for these settings. Before the pandemic, there was no problem finding these items for sale, and buying them in bulk and wholesale, but those days are in the past. This has affected all states in the USA, and Kansas City is no exception.
The city has had tremendous help from other states and the national stockpile, but N95 masks are still hard to find and are reserved for healthcare centers only. However, there are many resources to buy reusable cloth masks in the area, which are recommended by the CDC for the general public.
If you’re a healthcare provider looking for N95 masks and other PPE, some useful resources include Get Us PPE, a non-profit organization dedicated to providing PPE for healthcare centers and other frontline workers.
We would like to end this informative piece by reminding our readers to stay protected with face coverings while in public settings. This includes kids over the age of 2, as recommended by the CDC. Reusable cloth masks are easy to find for sale or can be made at home with accessible materials, with resources flooding the internet.