The coronavirus disease COVID-19 epidemic, caused by the novel severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2). It has been spreading worldwide. Healthcare workers and other first responders, in particular, require personal protective equipment to protect their respiratory systems from airborne particulates and liquid splashes to the face and also need N95 face masks.
The N95 respirator has become an essential part of reducing SARS-CoV-2 transmission and limiting the scope of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, a major controversy has erupted over the protective performance of best N95 respirator masks, with a slew of healthcare workers affected despite wearing N95 masks.
This article summarises the most recent information on the effectiveness of N95 respirators in the current pandemic situation.
Reusability of N95 respirators and surgical masks
According to many, manufacturers’ products such as medical or surgical masks and respirators should not be reused. To define use,’ the process of removing and re-applying a face mask or respirator. Respirator masks are scarce during the pandemic, and some hospitals have chosen to reuse them in limited quantities. The CDC has this to say about respirator reuse: If no manufacturer guidance is available, preliminary data suggests that the number of reuses per device is limited to no more than five to ensure an adequate safety margin.
Extended use of N95 mask
Because of shortages in safety equipment, many healthcare professionals have worn face masks for longer during the coronavirus pandemic, which would otherwise have been discarded between patient encounters, as long as they are dealing with patients suffering from COVID-19. According to the CDC, prolonged N95 mask use (including between patients) can be safe for up to 8 hours, and each user should review each manufacturer’s recommendations before implementing this strategy. To reduce soiling of the N95 current guidelines recommend wearing a face shield over it.
Is face mask rotation a healthy practice?
Purchase a set number of N95 masks and rotate their use each day, allowing them to dry for a long enough period (> 72 hours) that the virus is no longer viable. This technique requires either hanging the respirators to dry or storing them in a clean, breathable container, such as a paper bag, between uses. Make sure not to touch the masks, and do not share your respirator with anyone else.
Importantly, when reusing an N-95 mask, practice diligent donning/doffing every time to avoid contamination of the inside or outside of the face mask. The CDC suggests discarding the face mask if it is damaged or significantly contaminated by aerosol-generating procedures or bodily fluids.
Usage of N95 masks against Omicron in 2022
The highly infectious Omicron variant is all around the world. Governments and medical professionals have urged the public to use the best N95 or KN95 respirator masks instead of cloth face coverings or medical-surgical face masks. As previously stated, respirator masks provide a tighter fit around the face and filter the air more effectively, providing extreme infection protection.
In the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has stated unequivocally that N95 masks are an excellent way to protect against Omicron. In its updated guidance, the CDC states that it “continues to recommend that you wear the most protective mask that fits well and that you will wear consistently.” The problem is that most people don’t have a ready supply of good-quality N95 or KN95 respirator masks, and they’re also more expensive than cloth face coverings or surgical masks. So, if possible, getting more life out of a respirator mask is a good idea, but proceed with caution.
Where to wear face masks?
While it is advisable to discard surgical masks after one day of use, this would seem to imply that the general public in Taiwan expected to practice ‘extended use’ of face masks. And we have seen people in China who have worn a single face mask for multiple days before changing to a new one.
Stating the risk of viral transmission is far more in a COVID-19 hospital ward than in an office or supermarket where social-distancing rules are in effect. The question of how long to wear face masks is different, and probably fair to say that, for the general public, limited extended use of face masks is still preferable to none.
Alternatives of N95 masks
The CDC recently approved the use of non-NIOSH masks from other countries. The approved list is available here. These are provided for informational purposes only, and the FDA doesn’t promote them: Home-made or fashion-industry N95-like masks made from materials such as HEPA filters or fabric are unproven, have potential hazards, and is not- advisable.
How to identify a counterfeit?
The NIOSH maintains an approved list of N95 vendors that keep up to date. Check to see if your mask is listed or buy it from the best mask suppliers from face mask suppliers in the USA for security in quality. The mask’s manufacturer should have certifications readily available for you to view. Furthermore, the NIOSH website lists telltale signs of counterfeits. Use a non-NIOSH face mask only if you have verified its authenticity.
Decontamination of face mask
The CDC, mask manufacturers, and academic/industry collaboratives actively research mask decontamination strategies. The following are general re-processing principles:
- The method must inactivate the viral load on the mask sufficiently.
- The face mask should be fit and should not choke.
Fortunately, recent publications have begun to test SARS-CoV-2 specifically, with encouraging results. Some publications have not yet been peer-reviewed due to the rapid nature of this research. It’s also worth noting that the best N95 respirator masks come in various styles, with varying strap materials and shapes.
Vaporization of hydrogen peroxide
In pilot studies, hydrogen peroxide vapor (HPV) decontamination allows multiple cycles of N95 processing with function preservation. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the FDA approved it as an emergency method for N95 decontamination for healthcare personnel. This decontamination method applies to N95 models that do not contain cellulose, such as 1860.
UV light treatment
To ensure proper viral particle inactivation with minimal mask degradation, UV treatment of N95 masks requires specific dosing protocols and full surface area illumination. Home UV light use is not advisable due to the precision required. Some hospital systems in the United States have used this method of decontamination.
Conclusion: There is no universally accepted “best practice” for N95 re-use. These methods are only beneficial in times of crisis and are not to be used regularly if mask supplies are plentiful. The optimal strategy for each person or institution will differ depending on the resources available at each institution.
What materials are used to create coronavirus disease masks?
Fabric masks are constructed from three layers of fabric:
- Cotton or other absorbent material forms the inner layer.
- Non-woven non-absorbent material, such as polypropylene, is in the middle layer.
- Non-absorbent outer layer, such as polyester or a polyester blend.
Is it possible for the coronavirus to survive on surfaces?
It is unknown how long the virus that causes COVID-19 survives on surfaces, but it appears to behave similarly to other coronaviruses.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, what surfaces should be cleaned?
High-touch surfaces in these non-healthcare settings, such as door and window handles, kitchen and food preparation areas, countertops, and bathroom surfaces, should be prioritized for disinfection.