In the times of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is well-known that personal protective equipment can be in short supply due to a huge increase in demand. This supply shortage includes products such as face masks, which is causing a lot of stress around the world as people try to find the correct personal protective equipment to keep themselves and their families safe.
Protectly.co stocks a range of masks, from simple surgical masks, to the more protective N95 respirator masks. These N95 respirators are NIOSH-certified and filter out at least 95% of airborne particles, including potentially harmful viruses and bacteria. Because of the higher level of protection provided by N95 masks, you may prefer to use these over simple medical/surgical masks or cloth masks. However, in the pandemic, it is recommended that as many N95 masks as possible are reserved for healthcare professionals who are likely to encounter patients who have the coronavirus. Unfortunately, even doctors and nurses who desperately need protection are facing a shortage of the respirators.
This shortage is the reason why many people have wondered if you can safely re-use an N95 mask. The team at Protectly are here to answer that question for you. The answer is yes, you can reuse an N95 respirator – but not without decontaminating it correctly, so that any viral particles on the mask are killed!
Three of the methods shown to be effective for killing the coronavirus on N95 mask are using vaporized hydrogen peroxide, baking in a hot oven (at least 70 degrees Celsius) for 10 minutes and exposure to UV light. These methods showed that the respirators still functioned well after the decontamination, which is essential – decontamination needs to kill all the virus particles but leave the respirator functioning well!
A government study has showed that even with these decontamination methods, N95 masks can only be decontaminated and reused between 2-3 times. Any more times than this cause the respirator to not provide as much protection to the wearer, which could put them at risk for contracting the coronavirus. You would be better to wear an authentic surgical mask than an N95 mask which has been disinfected and reused too many times.
There are some methods which you should be careful not to use for decontamination as these are shown to either not kill the virus, or to damage the function of the mask too much. They could actually put you in more danger than if you just kept wearing the mask. These methods are washing with soap and water, using ethanol, soaking the mask in bleach, or leaving the mask in storage for a period of time. They might sound like a good idea – but they are proven to not work.
When you are putting your mask back on to reuse it after decontamination, you need to make sure that the fit is still correct and that there are no holes between the mask’s edges and your face. Also, make sure to never reuse your mask if it has been exposed to a COVID patient or has been contaminated with any body fluids.
Reuse implies the practice of multiple encounters with patients using the same respirator N95, but after each encounter, withdrawing it ('doffing'). The respirator is held between experiences to be placed on again ('donned') before the next encounter with a patient.
The CDC does recommend prolonged usage of a single mask instead of decontaminating and reusing it where possible. This is because prolonged usage doesn’t require you to touch the mask or your face, whereas decontamination does – so there is a risk of getting viral particles on your hands. However, when done correctly, reusing N95 masks can be a good way to make sure that you aren’t affected by shortage.
Remember: decontaminate correctly, and only reuse 2-3 times.