Many people are playing things fast and loose when it comes to mask guidelines because supply shortages are forcing them to improvise. Health agencies are working hard to get the word out that not just any covering that is placed over the nose and mouth can be designated as a medical face shield. As you likely know, Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) only provides the level of adequate protection guaranteed when it is used properly based on guidelines provided by manufacturers and regulating agencies. This is something to keep in mind when considering whether your facility should adopt the practice of allowing employees to reuse N-95 NIOSH surgical respirator or medical masks. Let’s explore what health agencies and researchers have to say.
It’s crucial to know that the FDA and all other regulating bodies consider N-95 NIOSH Surgical respirator masks to be single-usage masks. Even the CDC clearly states that N95s are not approved for routine decontamination as conventional standards of care. N95 respirators should be discarded following use involving aerosol-generating procedures, exposure to secretions or bodily fluids, and any potential contact with infectious disease without question. Yes, agencies like the CDC have offered guidelines for decontaminating N95 masks in situations where essential workers do not have access to new masks. However, decontamination should be viewed as a “last resort” only when fresh masks are unavailable.
We don’t know a lot about the feasibility of reusing N95 masks because the universal shortage of PPE resulting from COVID is unprecedented. However, some emerging research conducted during the pandemic shows that sterilizing masks with conventional decontamination methods like chlorine dioxide creates a notable reduction in overall filtration efficiency. One recent study by researchers at the University of Oklahoma found that N95 mask efficiency decreased from 95 percent to approximately 86 percent following sterilization. The researchers involved did not explore the impact that multiple sterilization cycles could have on masks. However, they did stress that filter materials within masks could likely degrade further with multiple sterilization attempts. This potentially creates a very precarious scenario where all parties involved have a false sense of security.
Reusing masks should not be a part of your first line of defense when keeping employees and clients safe. Unfortunately, this is a practice that increases risk and liability for everyone involved. The current shortages can make it challenging to source a constant 3ply mask supply. At Secure Components, we understand that this is no time to drop the ball for our customers. That’s why we’re working tirelessly to use our long-established supply chains for vetted, authentic medical and protective supplies for our clients. As suppliers to the Department of Defense, Secure Components understands what it takes to fulfill demand under pressure. Please explore our website today to discover a respected, trusted channel for sourcing hard-to-find surgical masks.