On Monday the state of Wisconsin reached the number of one million N95 masks shipped as their way to help healthcare and front line workers face the pandemic safely. For Governor Tony Evers, as he explained, providing them with personal protective equipment has been the biggest priority during the pandemic.
The Wisconsin Emergency Department, along with other partners including the Department of Health Services, managed to create a supply chain that ships out all the masks. They determine the local needs and shortages with the help of the county and tribal emergency managers and the State Emergency Operations Center (SEOC), and the regular shipments are distributed by local partners from a state warehouse.
The Governor pointed out that they have distributed PPE items other than N95 masks. Some examples include more than 16.1 million non-medical face masks, more than 30,000 thermometers, and almost 225,000 respirators, among many others.
Evers also thanked all the state workers, and the local emergency and public health partners for playing a critical role in the process, ensuring the lifesaving masks and supplies could reach where they were needed most.
This announcement comes after the Governor instituted a new mask mandate and public health emergency for the state since their hospitals are overwhelmed at the moment. He ordered for Wisconsinites to wear any type of face-covering in public spaces because cases are on the rise inside the state. The hospitals are operating at near full capacity, and healthcare workers are struggling to keep up with the number of patients.
The distribution system of Wisconsin state works with the Strategic National Stockpile and the Federal Emergency Management Agency and with private vendors for the purchasing orders of the state’s PPE. The cost is shouldered by the state and not at the expense of the people receiving the PPE.
Understanding why N95 masks are so important
COVID-19 is a new respiratory and infectious disease that has taken countless lives and severely affected people in terms of physical and mental health, social life, and economy during this year. It’s caused by a virus called the SARS-CoV-2, a new species of coronavirus previously unknown to scientists and experts.
The virus is spread through fluid droplets released by infected people when they talk, cough, or sneeze. When the viral particles reach the wearer’s airways, either through the mouth, nose, or eyes’ mucous membranes, the virus starts replicating and colonizing it. This can lead to a disease with varying degrees of severity depending on the person it affects, from an asymptomatic infection to a potentially lethal disease. It can severely injure the lungs and other organs as well, particularly in people with certain risk factors like older age and immunosuppression.
N95 masks are respirators according to the classification established by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). They’re a federal agency, part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) created to ensure work safety across the United States. They do this by making recommendations based on scientific research, and part of their job is to regulate respirators.
They test and certify if a respirator intended for distribution in the USA meets the criteria for each respirator type inside their classification. This classification names respirators based on two of their properties: oil resistance, which is directly proportional to how well the respirator filters out particles that contain oil, and their filtration rate, telling us how many airborne particles the respirator can filter out.
N95 masks get their name from this classification: the N represents the respirator not being resistant to oil, and the 95 means that it can filter out at least 95% of the airborne particles in the air. This means N95 respirators are effective for non-oil-based airborne particles in the air which includes dust, smoke, and viruses like the flu or COVID-19. Some particles they can’t filter out include glycerin, vapors, and gases.
This makes N95 respirators the best disposable face mask there is available for virus protection at the moment, with antiviral properties that make it perfect for those with a high risk of exposure to COVID-19. This includes healthcare workers and other workers on the frontlines of the pandemic, who can’t wear masks that offer lower protection because they’re exposed to the virus all the time.
N95 respirators have been scarce for most of the year. Before the pandemic, they could be found for sale online easily, and anyone could buy them in bulk or wholesale. Some of the most purchased N95 masks were the 3M N95 masks in the models 3M 8210 and 3M 8511. But, shortages started to happen across the country, as it was predicted before cases started to rise significantly.
Many healthcare centers, particularly smaller ones like nursing homes, have been severely affected by having to reuse N95 respirators or use alternatives to them, including surgical masks, KN95 masks, and even reusable cloth masks. They’ve also been using face shields to increase the already deficient protection they’re using.
As we’ve explained, COVID-19 is spread through droplets released by infected people, and sometimes this infection can be asymptomatic. This means that people can spread the disease without knowing they have it, which is why everyone needs to wear any type of face-covering in public. This includes kids over the age of 2 with face masks in a size that fits their face properly, as recommended by the CDC.
Wearing a face mask has been scientifically proven to decrease the spread of the virus, and it’s our best resource for virus control while a vaccine is in development, which is why we encourage our readers to wear one in public places at all times.