Your Quick Guide to PPE Answers, an FAQ
Before the United States’ outbreak of the novel coronavirus in February and March, masks were simply something worn by doctors and trick-or-treaters. Now, masks are not only an essential part of everyday outfits; they’re life savers, literally. But it’s not just masks -- masks, respirators, face shields, nitrile and latex gloves, etc. are all part of a larger category called “PPE.” So, when it comes to PPE and its new everyday prevalence, there are also a million questions to answer. How do I tell what kind of equipment I should use? What’s really effective? Do masks have a shelf life? Clinical Supplies is here to answer all these questions and more.
Q: What is PPE?
- Before the age of COVID-19, PPE commonly referred to personal protective equipment used for workplace safety, typically in relation to that used on manual labor sites and projects, or other high-risk jobs. Some examples of what PPE used to most commonly refer to includes work boots, high-viz clothing, hard hats, ear plugs, respirators, etc. Now that PPE is for public use in protection against the SARS-CoV-2, such as masks, nitrile or latex gloves, hand sanitizer, face shields, N95 respirators, etc.
Q: What kind of PPE is recommended by the CDC?
- For non-healthcare workers, the CDC currently only recommends the use of face coverings, including masks, respirators, or face shields, with increased emphasis on the first two. For healthcare workers, the CDC recommends the use of gloves and surgical or isolation gowns while in hospitals and other medical settings, in addition to N95 respirators.
Q: What kinds of gloves are recommended?
- The CDC recommends the use of non-sterile, disposable examination gloves. These are most often made of either latex or nitrile. While latex is beneficial, the benefits of nitrile gloves, such as those sold by Clinical Supplies, are greaters, as nitrile gloves are more durable and resistant to perforation. Additionally, latex allergies are common, while allergies to nitrile are less so, making them the preferred glove material by medical professionals. Use of double gloves is not recommended, and the CDC says it is not necessary for gloves to be extended length.
Q: Who should be wearing masks? Who should be wearing respirators?
- The CDC recommends a bare minimum of a cloth face covering when interacting with others. This is because SARS-CoV-2, more commonly known as COVID-19 or the coronavirus, is spread via respiratory droplets that are dispersed when yawning, talking, coughing, laughing, sneezing, and breathing. Wearing a face mask contains the wearer’s droplets, protecting others from coming in contact with any germs the droplets may carry. However, this is only effective if everyone wears a mask, and, as we’ve seen in recent weeks, that is not the case. Therefore, use of an FFR (filtering facepiece respirator) does more to ensure the protection of both the wearer and anyone whom s/he comes in contact with.
Q: Why is a respirator better, though?
- As mentioned in the above response, face masks work by containing the wearer’s respiratory droplets, which carry the coronavirus germs, and thus protect others from the spread of COVID-19. However, masks offer simply a containment of germs, and are only 100% effective at stopping the spread if everyone wears a mask, all the time. Respirators, on the other hand, actively contain the spread and filter the air the wearer breathes, thus protecting the wearer from others’ germs, and simultaneously protecting others from the wearer’s germs.
Q: What do the numbers on FFRs indicate?
- The numbers and letter that precede a repirator’s label indicate its degree of protectiveness, as demonstrated by the percentage of air particles that are between 100 and 300 nanometers in size that the respirator’s material is able to filter out. Therefore, N95 respirators filter 95% of germs in the air, while N97 filter out 97%. N95 respirators are what the CDC recommends for all medical personnel, but they’re useful for all those who want to protect themselves, and are much more widely available than respirators of higher filtration. While they are sold out in most retailers, Clinical Supplies still has N95 respirators and N95 masks, which function the same way, in stock and for sale.
Q: Are respirators reusable?
- Yes! Part of what makes N95 respirators better than surgical masks is not only increased filtration abilities, but also that they are reusable, while masks must be disposed of after a single use. So long as the respirator maintains its original structural integrity and is not physically durtied, it is able to be reused.
Q: Can respirators expire?
- NIOSH does not label respirator with expiration dates. However, if you think your respirator’s age may be affecting its function, you should consult the user instructions or the manufacturer to see if storage and shelf life may affect your respirator’s filtration abilities.
- Should I buy a respirator with an exhalation valve? Will it protect me the same way as one without?
- N95 respirators featuring an exhalation valve prove the same protection to the wearer as those without. The purpose of the valve is to increase breathability for the wearer, as the thick filtration material in N95 respirators which provides protection also may cause a slight increase in difficulty breathing and stuffiness. Some find that exhalation valves keep their faces cooler and make wear more comfortable. However, N95 respirators with a valve should NOT be worn in medical fields wherein a sterile environment must be maintained, as the valve does not filter a wearer’s outgoing breath, allowing unfiltered breath to escape into the environment.