This paper is the fourth in a series on the pandemic disease, COVID-19. The first paper focused on safely reopening your business. The second one concerned face masks, the primary PPE (personal protective equipment). The third paper involved examining the exposure routes. Finally, this one will discuss the reuse of N-95 masks. This has been of great importance during the current pandemic. That is due to shortages of N-95s and the need to protect everybody. Further, health care workers and other front line workers must be protected from infected and asymptomatic carriers of the SARS-CoV-2 novel corona virus.
N-95 Masks Not Designed for Reuse
Do not reuse N-95s. Wear them one time and throw them away. Their paper cloth-like material does not stand up well when washed or disinfected. The filtration can be reduced and put the wearer at risk. The elastic bands and the filter material may become distorted. Then the mask does not seal properly to the face or fit properly. This allows air leakage and defeats the purpose. Also, viruses, bacteria, and physical particles can become trapped on the outside of the filter material and lead to infection when touched.
Short Supply has Forced the Issue
Necessity is the mother of invention! And because the N-95 has come into such demand, we have been forced to explore reuse of these disposable masks. The scientists and regulatory agencies have explored various options and made emergency concessions for the reuse of N-95s. Federal agencies involved include the Center for Disease Control (CDC, www.cdc.gov), Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA, www.osha.gov), and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA, www.fda.gov).
N-95 Masks Reuse Guidelines
The simplest method is to store the N-95 in a closed paper bag and not reuse it until 5 days later. This is not true disinfection but it banks on the virus dying outside of the body, which is typical of most micro-organisms. The CDC identifies the following disinfection methods:
- Moist Heat (think autoclave)
- Ultra-violet Light
- Hydrogen Peroxide
Only trained scientists and medical personnel can use these disinfection procedures. Examine the masks for distortion and damage, then fit test them on personnel. Just remember – when in doubt, throw it out!
As the Virus Turns
That sums up reuse and disinfection at this time. But stay tuned, because new information and data come in every day!
So there is a discussion of reusing N-95s. If you need any assistance, ESC (www.escflorida.com) is here. We have a board Certified Industrial Hygienist (CIH) on staff and have been providing respiratory protection services to our clients for thirty years. ESC has the credentials and experience to help you with your respiratory protection needs. We are just a telephone call (800-226-1735) or an e-mail away (firstname.lastname@example.org). Contact us today!