Since the beginning of the public health emergency that has represented the COVID-19 pandemic, healthcare centers have been the most severely affected. Their workers have to wear multiple layers of personal protective equipment to be safe while taking care of COVID-19 patients, leading to these centers to need bulk and wholesale purchases of all these products.
However, this incredible demand was met with a lack of capacity from manufacturers, leading to shortages of all these items, but N95 masks in particular have been affected. Currently, they’re very difficult to find for sale online.
Some experts link this situation to the place the masks are being manufactured. In this article, we’ll talk about the countries that produce the most N95 masks.
What are N95 masks?
N95 masks have been described since the earlier days of the pandemic as the best face mask healthcare workers can use for virus protection. This title comes from the fact their filtering properties include antiviral protection, which is something surgical masks, the most widely used face mask in the healthcare field, doesn’t offer.
N95 masks are respirators, which is why they’re sometimes referred to as N95 respirators. These are devices used in many different work settings where workers are exposed to respiratory hazards, which are particles that can cause health conditions when inhaled. They filter these out so that the wearer doesn’t inhale them and they can work safely.
The name of these masks is established by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) on their classification for respirators they use to regulate these items in the USA. They base this classification on a two-part naming system that involves the oil-resistance and filtration rate of the respirator.
N95 respirators are those that can’t filter out oil-based particles because they’re not resistant to this substance, and can therefore filter out 95% of the non-oil based airborne, which ae those with a size in diameter of 0.3 micrometers. This allows them to filter out a wide range of particles, giving them a wide variety of uses in many different work settings. Some particles include pollen, smoke, dust, and bioaerosols, like the flu virus and the SARS-CoV-2.
Approval by NIOSH is required in any respirator marketed as ‘N95’. This institution has to test and evaluate each respirator manufactured following their classification to ensure they meet their requirements for each type. Without this certification, a mask can’t be distributed as an N95 mask, because its performance hasn’t been proven.
Shortages in the United States
Since before the pandemic began, it was imminent that there would be an increase in the level of protection healthcare workers were going to need to take care of COVID-19 patients. This includes layers and layers of personal protective equipment, but perhaps the most important part is the respiratory protection, which came from N95 masks.
Over the course of last year, we’ve seen how healthcare centers have collapsed due to the increase in the patient influx, and their capacity not being able to match it. This also increased the demand for face masks and other safety equipment, since the number of patients and the workload has been so high.
However, many of the face masks needed for protection, including the N95 mask, are disposable face masks, which ideally need to be discarded after every single use. But, with the shortages of PPE, and affecting particularly N95 masks, frontline workers have had to reuse these masks, potentially risking infection in the process.
Although many efforts have been made to increase production, and highlighting big companies like 3M, popular for 3M N95 masks like the 3M 1860, the 3M 8511, and the 3M 8210, and Honeywell that increased their production significantly inside the USA, the shortages have not gone anywhere. Hospitals need to buy all of these items in bulk and wholesale, but they have become very difficult to find for sale online.
Which country produces the most N95 masks?
Although manufacturers in the USA have been stepping up to increase their production of N95 masks since the pandemic began, most of the personal protective equipment (PPE) used inside the country is still manufactured and imported from overseas. This includes surgical masks, gloves, gowns, face shields, N95 masks and, of course, KN95 masks, which are regulated by Chinese standards for respirators.
According to the Alliance for American Manufacturing and the New York Times, China was making at least half of the world’s face masks before the pandemic began. The New York Times reports that the country has expanded their production of masks nearly 12-fold since the pandemic began.
How to purchase N95 masks made in the USA
Both small and large American companies have been increasing their production of N95 masks to help alleviate the shortages most hospitals and healthcare centers are experiencing. This situation leads to unprotected healthcare workers who are risking their lives to save the lives of those who are suffering from COVID-19.
However, smaller local companies need support to keep producing these masks. For smaller healthcare centers, these local manufacturers represent the main source for PPE, and knowing they exist and buying from them is the best way to keep them producing N95 masks, which are extremely necessary at the moment.
The Alliance for American Manufacturers has a list with American manufacturers of PPE along with their location, and they keep it regularly updated. You can check it out to find out if there’s a manufacturer near you, so you can support them in any way you can.
We want to remind our readers that, according to the CDC, adults and kids over the age of 2 in public settings can wear reusable cloth masks in combination with social distancing to reserve medical-grade masks to frontline workers.