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Since March, the United States has been among the countries with increasing cases of COVID-19 around the world, getting into a real state of emergency. The pandemic started in China and has now reached almost every country in the world, provoking a health crisis in even the most developed countries. The medical resources for healthcare workers began to become some of the most concerning topics regarding the pandemic, and most of those fears came true.
The personal protective equipment (PPE) inside the USA particularly was a source of concern for experts, especially when it came to N95 respirators. Healthcare workers were in big danger of being exposed to this deadly threat without proper virus protection, by attending people with coronavirus. This possibility was already a prediction that would await the country shortly since the beginning of the crisis.
The general public started to buy gloves, KN95 masks, N95 masks, face shields, and other PPE in bulk, which contributed to the development of shortages everywhere. We’ll take a deeper look into how companies like Walmart have helped alleviate this situation.
In order to deal with the inevitable N95 shortage, it's important to check out the Clinical Supplies USA website to meet all of your PPE needs. Clinical Supplies is servicing everyday Americans that need N95s for work and personal endeavors. The website offers multiple 3M N95 models, including the 8511 and 8210.
Let’s talk a little bit about N95 masks
Without a doubt, the center of attention during the pandemic has been this disposable face mask. But, why are they so sought after? You may have heard that this equipment has been sold out in multiple online stores, and healthcare workers are fighting to get this medical supply. Why is it so effective and valuable right now?
The N95 respirator is the most effective way to protect oneself against the coronavirus. They are the best protection against all airborne particles, since they filter out at least 95% of them, preventing you from inhaling them. Unlike surgical face masks, which don't have this high of a filtration rate, these masks can effectively prevent virus transmission while in close contact with infected people.
What makes the N95 mask so effective at filtrating these particles? Well, the two properties that make it effective are reflected in its name: ‘N’, meaning non-resistant to oil, and ‘95’, referring to the 95% minimum filtration efficacy we just explained. Viruses are both non-oil-based and airborne particles (they have a diameter of 0.3 microns), so the N95 masks it’s perfect for trapping these particles inside their filtrating material.
The N95 mask can also filter out other types of particles that meet these characteristics, like smoke and dust, and other types of viruses, like the flu virus. This makes this mask a very useful type of PPE not only for medical use, but for other industries as well, like mining and construction.
As a PPE, N95 masks need to be regulated by an institution called NIOSH (National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health) that makes sure that the mask meets all the criteria to be an N95 mask. But, one thing that sets apart the N95 for medical use, is that it needs approval by both NIOSH and the FDA (Food and Drug Administration).
The pandemic brought many problems regarding the N95 mask
With the demand increasing, the need for N95 masks became an opportunity for low-quality manufacturers to take advantage of the fear and vulnerability of the population. Counterfeit N95 masks started to become too common to encounter, especially online, as physical stores ran out of these supplies and eventually had to close down.
Counterfeit N95 masks don't have the NIOSH approval, therefore they are not effective in protecting against the coronavirus. The possibility of people buying these face masks is very dangerous. Anyone who uses them is at high risk of getting infected, and are also potentially spreading the virus among their communities. For people with comorbidities, like Diabetes Mellitus, cardiovascular disease, or immunocompromised patients, this is a deadly situation.
There are several ways to make sure your mask is a high-quality one, and has been regulated and approved by NIOSH. Learning all the little tricks to spot fake masks can help you make sure you’re getting the value you’re paying for. And, rightfully, the first to look for is the NIOSH approval label. It must be present on or within the packaging, either inside the box or within the instructions.
Fake N95 can also come with a “NIOSH label” with the acronym misspelled. Either way, if you’re dubious about your face mask, NIOSH has a list of Certified Equipment (CEL), where you can search the approval number. Another source to look for the legitimacy of your respirator is the NIOSH Trusted-Source page.
Counterfeit masks have some other characteristics, like being marketed for kids, which need a smaller size, otherwise, regular masks won't protect them, or not having the 95% particulate filtration efficacy clearly stated on the mask. Legitimate N95 masks have headbands and not earloops, like the ones on regular surgical face masks, to ensure a secure fit to the head.
Along with the counterfeit problem, came the price gouging, especially inside online stores. The high demand for these masks made certain sellers increase drastically the price for this equipment, making it even harder for people with low incomes, taking advantage of the fear the pandemic installed inside the general public.
But the most concerning problem were the shortages. Since the pandemic started, experts worldwide warned about a possible shortage of medical supplies, and the United States was especially vulnerable to this. In March, with the increase in the number of coronavirus cases inside the country, experts stated that the nation only had about 1% of the supplies that would be needed to face the pandemic.
Invoking the Defense Production Act of 1950, also known as the DPA, in April was the next step taken to prevent this potential shortage. The law will ensure private companies, mainly 3M, would prioritize supplying the nation before the rest of the world, increasing domestic production, and decreasing exportation of the mask to other countries.
However, several months into quarantine, this measure doesn’t seem to have worked to the necessary extent. Shortages are already happening in many states, especially those that reopened, where protection gear was needed most, and where cases started to increase again.
Some professionals even say that these shortages will be happening throughout 2021 and can last until 2022. The measures weren't taken soon or aggressively enough, and not much can be done now to prevent essential workers from working without proper gear, primarily small healthcare centers like dental or physician offices.
What has Walmart done to help out with the coronavirus?
For the communities
The Walmart Foundation announced back in March a $25 million donation to be distributed to support organizations on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic. The distribution for the money was made in a series of grants to expand organizations’ capacity to help communities that have been greatly affected by this situation.
A second and third round of grants was made in May to organizations not only in the USA but all around the world. The commitment was then increased to $35 million for cash and in-kind donations. You can see the full list of donations made on their website.
Grants for COVID-19 response inside the United States have been made in three key areas: food, healthcare, and technology. For food security, their work has focused on increasing food access to certain populations that have been especially affected by the pandemic.
For healthcare, the grants have been aimed to support frontline organizations, like the Hispanic Federation and the Boys and Girls Club of America Native Services, which are helping by aiding the frontline workers, especially those in vulnerable communities across the country. It’s no secret that smaller communities and healthcare centers aren’t getting as much attention, and are the ones having the roughest time, so ensuring their safety is very important.
Lastly, in the technology sector, Walmart has focused on donating to organizations that aim to ensure access to necessary tech equipment for continuing to succeed despite the situation we’re all living.
Pandemics aren’t only a health emergency, but they are also taking a toll on many other areas, and vulnerable communities and populations are becoming more vulnerable because of this. Access to water, money income, losing jobs, are some of the problems Americans are facing each day since March, and need all the help they can get.
Walmart has been a crucial place for safe testing availability. To ensure numbers are correctly tracked, and we are having a real-time tracking of how the virus is behaving, testing for a COVID-19 diagnosis should be exhaustive and the main focus for research and epidemiology reasons.
Healthcare centers have been overflowed with patients for coronavirus and non-coronavirus related symptoms. Testing was becoming scarce and a privilege, while most mild or asymptomatic cases were sent home without a definitive diagnosis, the numbers were not a true reflection of the number of people who were getting infected.
Beginning in April with drive-thru testing sites in their parking lots across the country, Walmart became a safe and recognized center for COVID-19 testing, following the guidelines set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). They added mobile testing in several states like Georgia, Alabama, and Kansas, and expanded into areas without Walmart stores to make sure they were getting to more rural communities.
By July, they had already set up 357 active testing spots, and had tested over 150,000 people all around the country, and counting. This has been a great use of their facilities, resources, and team of professionals. A great example of helping the country in times of need.
Protecting their employees
At the very beginning of this situation back in March, Walmart started to have the back of its associates. Since the very start, the company implemented an emergency leave policy for COVID-19, intended to make sure employees showing symptoms of this disease to stay home and take care of themselves, without worrying about work.
Walmart is also offering many options for affordable health consults. Most associates and their family members have access to telehealth doctor visits, as well as behavioral counseling through their Walmart’s Resources for Living program. It’s nice to see big companies taking into consideration the mental health of its workers, especially during these uncertain times.
Just like many other large stores, to stay open, Walmart has had to take very strict social distancing and sanitizing measures. They are requiring face masks and other types of coverings for their employees to work, as well as taking their temperature when they begin their workday. They've also installed sanitizing procedures for both people and for the store itself.
To thank its associates, Walmart announced a special cash bonus for all hourly associates in both March and May. They have also been advising their employees to follow the essential guidelines of social distancing and good hygiene.
Is Walmart selling N95 respirators?
The CDC has a series of guidelines regarding PPE for healthcare workers, and PPE for other types of jobs, as well as the protective gear the general public that isn't exposed to the virus, can use. Even though the subject was somewhat controversial a few months ago, the official CDC recommendations have changed.
Right now, the N95 respirator supply needs to be prioritized and directed to the healthcare sector. The CDC urges the general public to use other types of masks, saying that even cloth masks are now considered enough of a protection for people who are practicing social distancing and are not near confirmed COVID-19 cases.
Walmart is not currently selling N95 respirators, but they do offer many other protective options for its customers, like disposable face masks or gloves. The face masks they provide their workers are not N95 respirators because these "should be reserved for at-risk healthcare workers”.
In these trying times, the whole world needs help from those who can provide it, and big companies are doing their part with incredible work for coronavirus relief. But, we can all help out in little ways. The best way to help out during this time is to stay safe and healthy ourselves.
You can purchase protection gear for sale online very easily and in bulk or wholesale, to make sure you're getting the best antiviral protection. 3M N95 masks can easily be found online at Clinical Supplies USA, while you are busy socially distancing, so there's no excuse. Take care of yourself, and you'll be saving lives too!