Health care workers in Minnesota are reportedly reusing N95 face masks amid a continued shortage of these protective respirators.
Hospitals are taking steps to extend the use of a single mask, including using ultraviolet light to kill the virus or treating them with vaporized hydrogen peroxide, according to the Star Tribune. N95 masks provide a “very efficient filtration of airborne particles,” filtering out some 95 percent of airborne particles when used correctly, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said. However, preliminary evidence shows the novel coronavirus can live on surfaces for up to 72 hours.
N95 respirators faced a shortage around the country at the beginning of the pandemic, with officials stressing at the time they should be reserved for frontline medical workers. Even now, CDC still says that these masks are “critical supplies” that “must continue to be reserved for health care workers and other medical first responders.”
Though N95 maker 3M said last week that it has doubled its production of these respirators this year, the global demand for them continues to outpace the supply — leaving some medical workers, such as those in Minnesota, to reuse the masks, the Star Tribune reported.
In a statement to Fox News, a 3M spokesman said the company “is making more respirators than ever before,” noting it has doubled its N95 respirator production globally to more than 1 billion per year.
However, “The reality is, demand for N95 and other respirators continues to far exceed supply for the entire industry,” he added.
Used masks can also be placed in separate paper bags where they can air out until any virus dies, according to the CDC.
But reusing masks is “disgusting,” remarked one nurse to the Star Tribune.
“Why would you think that it’s OK to wear a potentially contaminated mask, from room to room to room?” Barb Galle, a float nurse at the Minneapolis VA Health Care System and president of the American Federation of Government Employees Professional Local 3669, said.
“In a nurse’s heart and mind, that is so disgusting.”
A spokesman for the Minneapolis VA told the Star Tribue that the hospital is “providing all employees with required personal protective equipment” and noted that COVID-19 infection rate among its employees has remained relatively low, at 0.74 percent.
Meanwhile, David Martinson, a spokesman for Bloomington-based health system and insurer HealthPartners, told the newspaper that employees do reuse N95 respirators — albeit safely — in an effort to “conserve supply now and ensure we’ll have enough in the event of a COVID surge.”
“While it’s difficult to predict how a second wave might impact PPE levels, the decontamination methods we use have helped us conserve N95s and keep our patients and colleagues safe, and we’re confident in our supply quantity,” he added.
Health care workers, including hospital staff, make up about 10 percent of Minnesota’s 35,549 confirmed cases, the newspaper reported. That number of positive cases grew by 523 cases Sunday, according to the Minnesota Department of Health.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.