Can you reuse N95 masks if they are in low supply?
The COVID-19 pandemic has morphed our ideologies of order and sociability in our society. We are currently surviving each day in fear and anxiety compounded by plummeting economies and chaotic governments. Amid all of this, healthcare professionals and several other frontline workers are carrying out their jobs by risking their lives. The shortage of N95 respirators amplifies their problems because the world has not witnessed a pandemic of such scale in a long time.
The CDC urges the general public not to wear N95 respirators because the people who are in most need of these respirators are the healthcare workers. The public should instead practice WHO guidelines to avoid exposure to the virus.
Unfortunately, many healthcare professionals have been reusing the N95 respirators because of shortage. Since these respirators can provide some protection to them, they feel that it is better to reuse them rather than to have no protection at all.
But these masks were never designed to be reused. They were meant to be safely disposed of right after their use. So, the big question right now is – can you reuse N95 masks if they are in low supply?
What do the FDA guidelines say about N95 respirators
US FDA recommends that N95 respirators should not be reused. They must be disposed after use. This recommendation is connected with the way these respirators work. An N95 respirator is designed to block small particles in the air and they seal the mouth area to avoid transmission of these particles from one person to another. The number 95 stands for 95% meaning that in testing, the respirators are able to successfully block 95% of the particles of 0.3-micron size.
Since these respirators may be damaged or soiled when they are being used, a person risks the spread of infection by reusing the respirator. Ideally, the wearer must remove it as per the guidelines and wash their hands after properly disposing the respirator.
What does CDC say about extended use and reusability of N95 respirators
Normally, healthcare professionals wouldn’t find a problem in disposing the masks and using new ones every time they needed one. But COVID-19 has given rise to a situation where we have a shortage of N95 respirators. Reusing disposable N95 respirators is a risk that healthcare professionals must not take. Instead, CDC has some guidelines for healthcare workers who are trying to work with fewer N95 mask in stock.
According to these guidelines, healthcare professionals can use the N95 respirators for an extended period of time. They can wear the same N95 respirator for several patients without removing it, provided all patients are infected by the same pathogen and are in the same area.
If the respirator sits securely around your face ensuring that there is no damage to the respirator and it is not removed in between, then it can be worn for up to 8 hours based on the environmental conditions. The respirator must be changed if the wearer has difficulty breathing in it.