There was a shortage of NIOSH approved N95 masks in 2020. But, now there are efficient, highly tested masks available in the marketplace today – so the question of reusage should not come.
But, the medical supply chain has not changed yet. And so, several nurses, doctors, and other medical professionals are reusing masks, sometimes one single-use N95 mask for a period of more than 6 months.
While absolutely unacceptable, is an unfortunate reality that hospitals around the country are dealing with, even in 2021.
So, while we do not recommend that an N95 mask should be reused at all, the CDC and OSHA have come up with guidelines that we feel are useful to those entering the workplace this year.
When Can I Never Reuse an N95?
If there’s blood, visible fluid, soiling of any type, respiratory or nasal secretions – the mask should absolutely not be reused.
How Can I Store my N95 mask for reuse?
Ideally, each healthcare worker should be given 5 N95 masks to reuse. Keeping them at safe distance, avoiding any contact with blood or bodily secretions – store them in a breathable brown paper bag for a period of 5 days prior to reuse.
How Can I Prevent my N95 mask from fluids?
Wearing a face shield actually helps protect your mask! It is especially useful in preventing liquids and secretions from getting into contact with the mask.
Similarly, using new gloves while wearing your N95 mask is also recommended. Discard the gloves after the donning is complete.
Decontamination of an NIOSH N95 Mask
We are truly leaving in, wait for it, unprecedented times. While previously, no medical employee would even remotely think of reusing an N95 mask, let alone try to decontaminate a possibly infected one – it has become the need of the moment.
NIOSH, which conducts rigorous tests on the N95 mask, recommends using vaporous hydrogen peroxide, ultraviolent germicidal irradiation, and moist heat as the top methods of decontaminating the masks.
Do not put masks inside a microwave, some of them contain metallic pieces, which would result in safety hazards of another variety, altogether.
Please be warned that once a decontamination process has been completed, you need to check if the mask still fits you perfectly. The filtering material, nose bridge material, and straps could change depending on the method used.
If decontaminating an N95, please ensure that you use NIOSH approved masks. Also, limit your reuse of the decontaminated mask, when possible.
Notes after Decontamination of the N95
Please ensure that the method you use on your N95 to decontaminate definitively restores the mask’s ability to inactivate bacteria and viruses.
Also check that filtration performance is not affected after every subsequent decontamination.
If the fit is affected during decontamination, use another N95.
Today, there are many N95 masks available on the market. Due to whatever reason, if you are unable to find one or are forced to reuse, please follow the above guidelines carefully.
For further details, please visit the CDC website.