The latest outbreak of Corona virus (Covid-19) has created many changes in the way everyday lives are lived and medical staff conducts their duties. Before, the shortage of N95 respirators was just not on this size. The CDC does not suggest that N95 respirators be worn by the general public as safety against COVID-19 or other respiratory diseases: preventing exposure is the safest way to prevent illness, and face masks are invaluable to healthcare workers who require additional protection. Unfortunately, on the grounds that some security is better than zero, many employees reuse theirs. However, is it the best and most successful course of action? These masks were intended to be disposed of after being used, so in the face of a disease outbreak, it is worth asking: Are N95 masks reusable?
Guidelines for Respirator Masks
The US Food and Drug Administration advise that there be no sharing or reuse of N95 respirators and disposable masks. Both surgical face masks and N95 respirators are built to block the mouth from consuming large particles. In order to provide full protection, surgical style face masks do not filter or block very small particles in the air, nor do they seal particularly well around the face. N95 respirators are designed to have a stronger seal around the face and are specifically designed to filter smaller particles. The 95 in the name comes from how 95% of 0.3 micron-sized test particles are blocked by the respirator during testing.
Masks and respirators are not meant to be used more than once, either. If damaged or soiled, the wearer risks exposing himself to bacteria and viruses. They should be removed in an ideal scenario and properly disposed of with diligent hand-washing afterwards.
The best-case scenario, sadly, isn’t always the one we have to deal with. Often difficult choices need to be taken in the middle of a healthcare crisis like the one we are facing right now: in the case of disposable masks, that could mean selecting which standards are more relevant to obey in every specific case.
The suggested course of action for treating respiratory pathogen outbreaks is expanded use. For many patients, healthcare staff wears the same N95 respirator without removing it, as long as those patients are contaminated with the same pathogen and put in a dedicated area together. They can be worn for a period of eight hours, depending on environmental conditions, as long as the mask continues to fit comfortably. When it becomes hard to breathe easily, it is time to change a mask.
For pathogens where contact transmission is not a concern, reusing masks is more common, and there should be limits on how many times the equipment is used and very close attention to how it is removed, processed, and disposed of.
A respirator mask works only as good as it fits. It won’t protect you from hazards if it doesn’t fit your face properly.