During the last several months, we’ve been hearing a lot about N95 masks. This particular type of face mask is our best chance at preventing the spread of the coronavirus while a vaccine is still in the works. The respirator is particularly important to healthcare workers, who are in constant exposure to the virus.
But, anyone who uses an N95 mask these days must be considered very fortunate and must treat it like gold. The shortages of this particular item have been hitting the healthcare sector very hard, with many workers having to reuse the same N95 respirator or use it for longer than its intended use.
Today, we’ll analyze if there’s a possibility that this critical item will become less scarce in the coming months.
Scarcity of N95 masks might continue
Nine months into the COVID-19 pandemic, and shortages are still happening around the country. N95 masks are the main line of defense for healthcare workers, and according to various reports, they are still having to reuse N95 masks, which are disposable face masks.
In January, N95 masks were cheap and relatively easy to find supply, but in a matter of weeks became like gold. Now, in October, we know that these respirators are needed in very high quantities, but it doesn’t seem like the numbers will meet the demand any time soon.
The problem seems to come from the way the Defense Production Act law was implemented. This law was invoked too late, around March when coronavirus cases in the USA were already too high. Even though American manufacturers were quick to respond to the production crisis, and we now have a great number of other supplies and equipment like ventilators and face shields, N95 respirators are still nowhere to be found.
According to a report by the Washington Post, the problem also comes down to a combination of business incentives and a failure at the federal level. The first, according to the newspaper, is a logical problem for any private sector: the risk of spending heavily on production for a demand that may not last long enough to make up for the investment. This is why the pandemic problem comes down to the public sector, and this is where the federal government has failed.
Back in May, when the pandemic had been going on for just over 2 months, concerns about medical supplies started to become a reality. The United States’ emergency stockpile only had 13 million N95 respirators, which was certainly not enough for the demands we were already having.
The Trump administration set a goal to increase that number to 300 million N95 masks by the fall time, which was the estimated number needed to meet the needs of the pandemic. We’re now in the fall, and no new information has been said by the President about this goal.
But, according to Yahoo News, by September 25, the number of N95 masks contained in the emergency stockpile is only 87.6 million, a lot less of what is needed. This is all according to a briefing document sent to senior officials in the Department of Health and Human. Why is that?
The Washington Post states that there’s a federal indifference to the production of N95 respirators. Among other ways the government has failed to show interest in ramping up the production of N95 masks, they claim that “a $1 billion fund Congress gave the Pentagon in March to build up the country’s supplies of medical equipment has instead been mostly funneled to defense contractors and used to make things such as jet engine parts, body armor and dress uniforms”.
There are no signs that any other measures will be taken in regards to N95 masks, so shortages seem to be a reality we’ll have to get used to for the next year as well.
N95 masks and why they’re so important right now
N95 masks are a very particular type of disposable face mask that, unlike surgical or medical, and of course reusable cloth masks, offer much more virus protection because it has more antiviral properties. Healthcare workers need to use these masks at work because they’re in constant exposure to the virus,
The term N95 comes from the classification of respirators established by NIOSH, which is the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. This institution is in charge of preventing work-related disease in the USA, and as part of their goal, they test and regulate respirators, certifying that they meet the standards to be named according to their classification.
This rating system groups masks according to their resistance to oil and filtration efficacy. N95 masks are not resistant to oil, which is indicated with the letter N, and have a percentage of minimum particulate filtration efficacy of 95%. This means N95 masks are very effective for protection against non-oil based airborne particles, such as dust and smoke, which is why they are often used by workers in the mining or construction fields.
N95 masks are also often used in healthcare settings, particularly during the last several months. This is because viruses, like the flu or the coronavirus, are also non-oil based airborne particles, and N95 masks do a good job at protecting against them, better than surgical masks. This is why healthcare workers need to be protected properly by providing them this respirator, so they can work safely.\
We remind our readers to stay protected at all times. If you’re in the healthcare sector, you can find resources online with products like 3M N95 masks, including the 3M 8210 and 3M 8511 models, KN95 masks, and other types of protective items for sale to buy in bulk or wholesale. If you’re looking for face masks for kids, remember that they need a smaller size.