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The COVID-19 pandemic started to be an emergency all around the world, especially in the United States, since March. Since the first case was diagnosed in China last year in December, the virus has spread around the world, creating difficult situations in health care centers, and causing the loss of countless lives.
This deadly virus is still being studied, and new things are being found every day, thanks to courageous and relentless researchers and scientists. While at the same time, our health care workers are fighting the virus directly every day to keep as many people alive as possible.
But, the great number of cases may be caught us unprepared, and shortages of N95 respirators and many other types of equipment, like face shields or N95 masks, have already been reported around the USA. Not only that, but price gouging and counterfeit models are being sold too, putting everyone at risk.
Many of the most important companies have been fighting to face these difficulties. Amazon, Walmart, and Lowe’s have done some amazing things to deal with the consequences of the pandemic, but still fall short on some aspects. Let’s talk a little bit about what Lowe’s has done, and their history with selling N95 masks.
Let’s start with the basics: what are N95 respirators?
N95 masks, also known as N95 respirators, are a special type of disposable face mask with unique characteristics. Just like regular medical or surgical face masks, they're not reusable and are designed to be used in a work environment to protect workers from respiratory hazards.
Many industries involve being around airborne particles that can damage the respiratory system, construction is a good example, and workers need to use these masks to avoid these work-related illnesses. That’s why they need to meet the standards set by NIOSH, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.
This federal agency is a part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and they have some set criteria to classify a respirator as such. This way workers and employers can be sure they are being completely safe while working because they won't inhale any of the harmful particles they are exposed to.
The standards for N95 respirators are several, but the classification mainly focuses on two characteristics on the respirator. These two features are what gives the mask its name, let us explain:
- Oil resistance: the NIOSH classification separates three types of resistance to oil, ‘resistant’ which is indicated by the letter R, ‘oil-proof’ with the letter ‘P’, and not resistant with the letter ‘N’. N95 masks are not resistant to oil, making it efficient to filter non-oil-based particles. Such particles include smoke, dust, and the virus that causes the flu.
- Minimum particulate filtration efficacy: this is designated with a percentage number. N95 masks filtrate through their antiviral filter at least 95% of all airborne particles, like the ones we mentioned before, which have a diameter of 0.3 micrometers.
These two main characteristics in N95 masks make them essential for health care workers as well, especially during the pandemic, since they are excellent with virus protection. However, the NIOSH approval isn’t enough for the mask to be cleared for medical use. To be used as medical equipment, N95 masks need additional approval by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
What is the Coronavirus?
Back in December of 2019, a new type of virus was detected as the cause of respiratory infections diagnosed in Wuhan, China. This virus was recognized as a new coronavirus species, and it was named SARS-Cov-2. Since then, the disease has affected the rest of the world, causing a full pandemic.
The disease this virus causes is called COVID-19, which means ‘coronavirus disease 2019’. It mainly affects the respiratory system, causing symptoms like sore throat, cough without production, general muscle pain, and smell and taste loss. Even though most cases are either asymptomatic or mild, some people suffer from much more severe complications. Severe lung injury, thrombosis, and even multi-organ failure, are some of the most common complications and causes of death.
People who develop these more severe symptoms tend to be either older people or individuals with pre-existing comorbidities. The most common ones include obesity, diabetes, pre-existing respiratory illnesses and smoking, cardiovascular disease, and immunocompromised people.
Scientists all over the world have been working non-stop to learn about this new virus species, and even though we've learned a lot in a very short time, there are still a lot of things we don't fully understand about this new coronavirus. Health care workers are risking their lives every day to save people's lives with what we know so far.
What are the main problems regarding N95 masks right now?
Since the pandemic started, N95 masks became a valuable resource everywhere. However, the risk of a medical supply shortage was imminent, since experts considered the United States only had about 1% of the supplies necessary to face the pandemic back in March.
Measures started to be taken in the USA. For example, the president invoked the Defense Production Act of 1950 in April, allowing the government to direct private companies to increase domestic production of medical supplies, and to prioritize the supply inside the country over the exportation of these products.
The company 3M was the main target of this law, and after some controversy and discussions with the administration, they finally complied to follow their instructions. However, several months later, experts say that this measure was taken too late and not aggressively enough, so the shortages started anyway.
Since then, the CDC has even changed their recommendations about the use of face masks by the general public. A controversial topic since the beginning of the pandemic, the CDC initially recommended the use of N95 masks by everyone, saying regular or cloth masks didn't work. Now, they urge the general public to use these less effective masks and leave the N95 respirators to health care workers.
- Counterfeit masks being sold
The fear of getting infected started to spread around the general public. People began to buy N95 masks in bulk, since those were the ones recommended to stay fully protected at the time. Companies started to take advantage of this fear, and the lack of knowledge in the general public, selling counterfeit N95 masks that weren’t qualified by NIOSH.
This represents an incredible problem, putting people at risk of getting infected or of potentially spreading the virus among their communities. This is especially concerning among health care workers who work in close contact with infected people, and also for individuals at high risk of developing a more severe illness.
- Price gouging
Selling fake N95 masks isn’t the only way companies started to take advantage of the situation. With most physical stores being sold out, the general public turned to online stores to buy their protective gear in bulk. Many sellers were increasing the price of N95 masks exponentially as the demand was increasing as well.
This has been a problem especially through Amazon, and the company has taken some action to avoid this situation from continuing to take place inside their online store. 3M has also been fighting against sellers who are gouging the price of their masks.
Lowe’s history of selling N95 masks
Lowe's has always been a reliable source when it comes to personal protective equipment. They’ve always been a store that has many types of PPE, including KN95 masks, face shields, gloves, and many different types of disposable face masks, including regular medical ones or cloth ones. Lowe's currently has packs of N95 mask available through their online store. These include 3M N95 masks, which are high-quality and reputable brand.
Even though Lowe's sells a lot of important medical supplies, especially in comparison with other regular stores, they still don't have the full range of variety that a medical supply store can provide. All the other N95 models you don't find in Lowe's can be found for purchase in bulk or wholesale through the Clinical Supplies website.
The masks you can find through Clinical Supplies include packs of N95 masks for kids, which need to be smaller in size. These include a wide range of variety in colors and designs, to make wearing a mask more fun and enjoyable and not as dull. This online store also offers the 3M 8210 and 3M 8511 models, which are some of the most used models right now. These models are no longer sold through Lowe's online store.
Lowe’s efforts during the coronavirus
Since March with the start of the pandemic in the USA, Lowe's has to take a lot of consideration with its employees, just like many other companies have done so far. One of the perks of working with Lowe's during the pandemic has been two extra vacation weeks, closing all stores during Easter Sunday, and bonuses gifted to active hourly employees across all of their stores, and support and distribution centers.
Among the bonuses gifted, Lowe's includes $300 for full-time and $150 for part-time hourly associates. In addition to the two extra vacation weeks, they also offered 14 days of paid emergency leave in case any employee or relative is sick or has to take care of other pandemic-related issues, such as closed schools. For associates who are at higher risk of developing severe symptoms or complications from coronavirus, the paid leave can be extended to four weeks.
Through their Employee Relief Fund. They are supporting employees with economic needs with a $3 million donation for any associates who are having hardships because of the pandemic. In addition to that donation, employees can also take food from pantries inside all stores.
But Lowe's hasn't only given back to its employees, but also the communities. The $25 million pledged by Lowe's to help everyone during the pandemic. $10 million from the budget was directed to a donation for health care providers who are facing the pandemic in close contact. Through medical supply distributors, they have been able to deliver essential PPE to hospitals all over the USA.
Local businesses have also been helped by Lowe's. The company donated $3 million to its COVID-19 Response Fund to support local businesses. Other donations they have done include $1.5 million for non-profit organizations in Charlotte and $500,000 to the American Red Cross.
Marvin Ellison, Lowe's CEO, has stated that the company is committed to serving not only employees from the company, but everyone who needs help during these difficult times, working alongside with communities in need.
Protecting their workers has also been a priority in Lowe’s measures through the coronavirus pandemic. They have been providing their workers with personal protective equipment, like face masks, to avoid infection inside their stores. This protects not only the employees, but the customers as well.
To be able to continue to serve its customers and keep their stores open all over the country, Lowe's has taken some measures to ensure social distancing. For example, they enabled an app monitor to track the people who are inside the store at all times, to prevent them from getting to crowded. Another measure they've taken is implementing curbside pickups.
Inside the stores, Plexiglass shields have been installed for cashiers to avoid transmission of the virus in either direction. And every customer who enters the store is provided with a face mask to ensure they and everyone else is staying protected against the virus.
During the pandemic, is everyone's job to do their part in helping whichever way we can. Big companies like Lowe's have the resources to make a big change and help others face this crisis more comfortably, especially their employees and customers.
We remind all our customers that you can find N95 masks for sale very easily online. You can find the best models that aren’t available through the Lowe’s online store on the Clinical Supplies website, and anyone who uses them can be sure they’ll be completely safe.