Even after a year in the COVID-19 pandemic the N95 masks continue to be scarce.
The nurses and doctors depend on the N95 respirator masks to stay protected. The masks are short in supply thus wearing it underneath a face shield can increase the life of the N95 masks.
Much has been written about the need and importance of the N95 masks and the sad fact that they are scarce and even after a year in the pandemic. The masks are essential and low priced products mostly priced under $1. Still even the wealthiest countries who could install thousands of ventilators could not overcome the scarcity of the masks. There are several reasons as to why the production of the N95 masks could not be increased. The makers could not increase the production of N95 because they assumed that the pandemic would eventually come to an end, and the cost of expanding the production of masks would go futile, leading to huge losses. Thus from the business point of view producing a low priced item where profit was lower making investment was of not viable. Another reason was that the virus poses a huge risk, and it is recommended for the health care provider’s safety to discard it after use. When the situation was not assessed, and the mask was disposed of, the scarcity started then only. The production was not increased, and the masks that were in stocks began to deplete. The lockdown phase made the situation worse. Even during the lockdown phase, mask’s movement from factories to warehouses and then hospitals got negatively affected. The masks were scarce in all parts of the world thus the chances of arranging for imports of the masks were also not an option. Therefore the entire world had the same problem, and thus, the resources to make the masks were also scarce. In free economies the Government could not intervene to scale up the production or ask new companies to start producing the masks. The existing manufacturers scaled up their production, but could not bridge the gap between need and availability of the masks. Also, defective supply chain was a culprit. The more influential and better resourced hospitals have more supplies while the other hospitals are still struggling.
The importance of N95 masks:
The N95 mask has become a necessity and the most reliable coveted defense against the virus. As per the recommendation of the FDA, the mask is meant only for one-time use. However, the ground reality is that the dearth in the availability of the N95 mask continues; the hospitals have asked the doctors and nurses to use the same mask till the mask gets torn or is visibly dirty. The repeated use of the same face cover, is risking the lives of the health experts and medical staff. Therefore, it was required that the N95 masks be sanitized before the second use. Sanitizing the masks is not easy as it is a time consuming process that requires special machinery and manpower. During the pandemic the doctors are working shifts after shifts without yeast and the time required for sanitization is not available. Secondly there is dearth of manpower to do the task, tus the option was of no use. After immense research it was further concluded that wearing face shields over the N95 mask can increase the life of the mask without compromising on the safety of the doctors or the nurses.
Trying different combinations of masks for added safety from the virus and ease in breathing.
The FDA recommends that the doctors or nurses wear surgical masks or the N95 masks for staying protected from viruses. The other masks do not provide the required filtration, and are not meant for use by the medical professionals. The N95 respirators are considered very efficient in blockage a wide variety of germs, droplets, splashes, sprays, and liquid that could carry germs. The N95 respirators efficiently blocked about 95% of the contaminants above the range of 0.3 microns. The medical fraternity is working for very long hours and using the N95 masks and PPE for long hours is a little uncomfortable.
What is a face shield ?
The face shields are used by deaf or hearing impaired people and use it to aid themselves for communicating while staying protected from virus and using a cover. NIOSH has issued that it is easier to wear the face shield and stay protected. It is also used by most of the medical care workers and front line warriors as they are better at preventing spray of respiratory droplets.
Mask adaptations and alternatives:NIOSH has published that wearing the masks for long hours is not easy so for doctors and nurses wearing the N95 mask with a face shield helps get a few moments of relaxation and helps release heat from the mask without affecting the safety.. They can remove the N95 mask and breathe comfortably. For extreme weather conditions like hot and cold wearing, a face shield above the N95 face mask can prove beneficial. During heat, when the N95 masks pose a problem and the masks get wet with sweat, it is feasible to wear the mask’s face shield. The wearer can remove the mask, be comfortable, and stay protected. During the winter months, the mask with a face shield is a better option as it protects from the winter breeze. Face shield with mask increases both comfort and safety for the wearer. Also the face shield increases the life of the face mask as the face shield protects the n95 masks from getting contaminated. There is no scarcity of the face shields and thus it is a better option to wear the face shield over the N95 masks.