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The United States has been one of the most affected countries by the coronavirus pandemic since March of this year. Cases have been increasing all over the world, causing a real worldwide emergency. This new virus was reported for the first time in December of last year in China and has spread all over the world since then. This healthcare crisis has been happening even in the most developed countries, and medical supplies and resources have been concerning topics.
Experts were expressing their fears about potential shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE) in the USA since the start of the pandemic, particularly the valuable N95 respirators, which are the best antiviral protection right now. Healthcare workers have been exposed to this virus more than anyone, and need the proper virus protection to be able to work safely. It would be very dangerous for them to work without medical supplies because of them being scarce.
Gloves, face shields, KN95 masks, along with N95 masks, were some of the products people started to buy in bulk in fear of not being able to find them. This contributed further to the shortages, and at the same time, paved the way for other problems to occur as well. Big companies have been taking action to prevent all these situations from happening, and we’d like to talk about how Walgreens has helped.
First of all, what are N95 masks?
You’ve probably heard the name of this mask a lot lately. Controversy about its use or lack of use, and whether or not it must be used by the general public or leave them for healthcare workers surrounded this particular face mask. This piece of equipment has been sold out in many stores, and hospitals are fighting to get enough of them to protect all of the workers. So, why is this mask so effective?
N95 respirators are the best protection against the COVID-19 virus. They are actually the best type of protection you can get to prevent inhalation of airborne particles. The filter from this face mask can trap at least 95% of all of these particles, which have a diameter of 0.3 micrometers.
Regular medical or surgical face masks, also known as regular disposable face masks, don’t have that type of filtration efficacy. This way, N95 masks protects anyone who uses them will be properly protected while being in close proximity with infected people.
N95 respirators need mainly two properties to be classified as such. This classification is made by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, or NIOSH for short. They have a set of standards from which all respirators are classified into several categories, depending on two characteristics primarily: oil resistance and their minimum particulate filtration efficacy.
These respirators get their name for not being resistant to oil, indicated with the letter ‘N’, and having a minimum filtration efficacy of 95% of all airborne particles, indicated with the number ‘95’. According to this classification, N95 masks are the perfect face mask for virus protection, since viruses are non-oil-based particles that are also airborne.
N95 masks are an important part of the PPE of workers in many industries. These are workers who are exposed constantly to respiratory hazards which can cause, in the long term, severe respiratory illnesses. These particles include smoke and dust, which can be filtrated by the N95 mask easily.
NIOSH has the responsibility to regulate these respirators, and the only way to be sure a product is legitimate, is if it has an approval stamp by this institute. For the healthcare field, these masks also need approval by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), since they can filter out all types of viruses, including the one that causes the flu.
What are the main problems surrounding N95 masks right now?
An increase in the demand of N95 masks because of the fear the general public was experiencing was the perfect opportunity for sellers to take advantage of the vulnerability everyone had at the moment. So, suddenly the internet was plagued with counterfeit and fake N95 masks claiming to be legitimate and NIOSH-approved. This problem has happened mainly online, where people turned to when physical stores were running out of supplies and closing down.
Fake N95 masks are not regulated by NIOSH, that’s why they are not safe to be used. People who buy these fake masks for sale without knowing are putting themselves in a very dangerous situation. Anyone using these masks in situations where they’re in close proximity with a coronavirus patient has a high risk of getting infected. On the other side, they are also potentially spreading the virus more easily, which is particularly dangerous in the context of a healthcare center.
The lack of knowledge the general public has about these masks makes them susceptible to falling victims of scams on the internet. But, there are little ways to know if the N95 masks you’re about to buy are legitimate or fake ones. If everyone learns about these little tricks, we can have a much safer community and fight back against parasite sellers.
The first and most important thing to look for in an N95 mask is the stamp of approval by NIOSH. You can find this either on the box or inside the instructions of the face mask. Additionally, an abbreviated version of the stamp should be within the mask itself. A fake mask can either not have any approval stamp at all, or have one where the acronym ‘NIOSH’ is misspelled. To be completely sure, NIOSH has a list with all the certified models where you can search for your respirator.
Some other characteristics can be found on fake N95 masks that can indicate that this is not a legitimate product. For example, marketing regular N95 masks to be used by kids, when in reality they need a size that is smaller for them to be completely protected. The use of earloops instead of headbands, and not stating the 95% particulate filtration efficacy clearly.
Now you know how to not get scammed, but counterfeit N95 masks are not the only problem with these respirators. Price gouging is another way some sellers started to take advantage of the vulnerability of the population. With a higher demand for these masks, certain sellers started to increase their prices as well. This would mean low-income families would have a harder time accessing proper protection. At the same time, healthcare workers would have to spend more money to be able to keep working.
The most concerning of all the problems happening with N95 masks were certainly the imminent shortage. The USA was warned since before coronavirus cases started to increase that shortages were a big problem awaiting the country. Experts estimated that the United States only had about 1% of all medical supplies needed to face the pandemic back in March, and that measures needed to be taken quickly.
The first main action taken by the government was done in April, by invoking the Defense Production Act of 1950, commonly known as the DPA. This is a law that was first created in 1950 during the Korean War, to make sure the country would have enough resources during this difficult time.
Today, this law would allow the government to direct private companies that produce medical supplies and equipment to prioritize domestic stock of these products. 3M, the main medical supply company in the USA, started to increase their production and was prioritizing importation over exportation.
According to experts, however, this measure might have been taken too late into the pandemic, and not aggressive enough. So, several months after invoking the DPA, shortages have happened anyway in many states, particularly those that reopened for a moment.
Today, shortages don’t seem to be going anywhere, and we might have to face the fact that they will happen no matter what we do. Experts have estimated that this situation will continue throughout 2021 or 2022.
What has Walgreens been doing to help during this time?
Most Americans know Walgreens as a reputable and very popular pharmacy store. This is USA’s second-largest pharmacy after CVS. The company was founded in Chicago in 1901, and its headquarters are still located there, in the suburb of Deerfield.
They started as a small food store, but by 1913 they already had four stores opened, and the fifth one was open to the public by 1915. During the 1920s, and with already 20 stores opened, Walgreens was already a full chain of pharmacy stores. Alcohol prohibition started in this decade, giving Walgreens an opportunity to rise by selling prescription whiskey, increasing its success.
With the coronavirus pandemic, Walgreens would be a place people would turn to for medical supplies like N95 masks. However, they don’t currently sell them, but they do sell other disposable face masks, like surgical or medical ones, and even cloth ones. They offer many brands and manufacturers. You can find N95 masks on Clinical Supplies’ website instead, where they have many 3M N95 mask models, like 3M 8210 or 3M 8511.
Walgreens has served as a very important testing center in the USA as cases started to rise. They offer contactless testing for coronavirus in selected locations all across the country, at no cost. They do require individuals to meet the criteria established by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as well as the federal and state guidelines. These are self-administered tests supervised by the professionals inside the Walgreens team, to ensure a contactless experience.
The company is currently looking to expand these drive-thru testing sites to all states in the USA, and Puerto Rico to help communities all over the nation. They want to focus on underserved communities to be able to provide much needed medical attention. They are also looking to provide companies with testing to employees to help businesses get back to work quicker.
The testing sites are open at no cost for any person that meets the criteria mentioned. These locations operate the seven days of the week from 9 am to 5 pm, but they operate by appointment. The process occurs outdoors, and the individuals never leave their cars during the testing. The testing staff are provided with proper PPE to ensure no risk is present.
As the second biggest pharmacy in the United States, Walgreens plays a critical role in access to healthcare products. To meet social distancing measures, they started to offer more items at the drive-thru to make sure customers had the option to stay safe while purchasing their necessities. Some of these additional products include infant formula, medical supplies, cleaning supplies, and cold and fever medicines.
Inside the stores, they have social distancing lines where everyone is obligated to stand at least 6 feet apart from each other while waiting. Plastic shields were installed at the point of sale to act as a barrier to reduce exposure to the virus in a place where social distancing is harder. They also expanded their Postmates delivery services to help with decreasing contact as much as possible.
Some other measures they’ve been taking include the requirement for team members to use face masks inside the stores. This measure also applies to any customer who enters physical stores, and have clear signaling on their doors to avoid close contact or proximity with individuals not wearing a face cover, as a way to protect all employees. Once inside the store, customers are provided with wipes for them to clean shopping carts and baskets to minimize further the risk of infection.
Walgreens has taken measures to face the medical supply shortages we’ve already talked about. They’re limiting the purchases of items for sale, like thermometers, hydrogen peroxide, and rubbing alcohol to one per customer. Other limited products include disinfectant wipes, paper towels, toilet paper, and gloves.
During these trying times, everyone is needing help in some way or another. The best way the general public can help is by staying healthy and safe. You can buy reusable face masks easily online in wholesale, with the recommendations we’ve given you. Remember to take care of your community by taking care of yourself first.