Upgrade Respiratory Protection—Now!
By: Dentec Safety, Contributor
COVID is not going away any time soon.
Omicron cases continue to surge in the U.S. and other countries worldwide. On January 23rd, 2022, an article in cityam.com announced:
“Various media across Scandinavia and the UK are reporting the emergence of a new Covid variant that is so infectious and spreading so fast that nearly half of all cases in Denmark are now the new mutation, named BA.2, with more than 400 confirmed infections across the UK. The new mutation has reportedly also popped up in Norway, Sweden, Singapore and India.”
In terms of Omicron, health officials believe the vaccines are still working against it, but the bad news is even fully vaccinated people are still contracting COVID. The COVID-19 vaccinations significantly reduce your chances of severe illness and death (across multiple age groups), but to avoid contracting or spreading COVID you NEED to wear a proper mask.
New variants will continue to pop-up until we contain and stop transmission. That’s why proper mask protection is a critical piece of the overall strategy to control the rapid spread of the virus; take pressure off our healthcare systems; and prevent future variants. Vaccines are a safeguard measure and the last line of defense, but they don’t prevent the spread. If we don’t control and stop the spread, we will keep getting new variants, and the endpoint to the pandemic will keep moving farther and farther away.
Medical and 3-ply masks aren’t cutting it.
To summarize the point above: If you don’t want to contract or spread COVID, wear a mask, but it’s important to note that more data is proving that a higher grade of protection is needed to prevent the spread. What’s even scarier is that 3-ply medical masks that are being sold to the medical industry are proving ineffective in protecting frontline workers.
SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, is airborne. Airborne pathogens require high-quality respirators that provide an airtight seal to our faces that will filter out airborne particles better than medical masks and disposable N95 respirators. We need to encourage everyone to wear masks that provide an airtight seal. According to an article in Healthy Debate:
Students and high-risk workers (e.g., health-care staff, teachers and warehouse workers) still face barriers to accessing this essential equipment, while having to spend time in settings that present some of the highest levels of exposure to the virus.”
Three-ply, cloth and gator-style masks are ineffective against the spread of COVID, due to the fact they do not provide filtration; are loose fitting; and cannot provide a tight seal. Dr. Sanjay Gupta and Dr. Anthony Fauci reported that the only effective respirator to use is an N95 (or better) respirator that provides a tight seal.
COVID-19 has been unlike any pandemic the world has experienced. It has affected not only our health but our supply of critical PPE and, most importantly, respirators. Due to North America’s dependency on foreign supply of disposable N95 respirators, many workers contracted the virus and died as a result. The CDC reported not to use respirator protection with an exhalation valve, as it allows the air to exit the mask.
It has been an important goal to design a respirator that is reusable, safer, more comfortable and more economical than disposable, such as a reusable elastomeric rubber respirator without an exhalation valve. Such respirators can be used in healthcare applications, as well as general industry—or wherever a group of workers of any type must work in close proximity.
Efficacy of Various Masks Against COVID-19
Anyone can be a source. Anyone can be a receiver.
With a cloth face covering, the user has 75% inward and outward leakage. A cloth face covering may be appropriate for the public to wear as source control, but they should limit proximity to others and time spent in an indoor space.
With a surgical mask, the user has 50% inward and outward leakage. A surgical mask may be appropriate for patients to wear as droplet protection source control. However, it does not provide adequate protection for workers from inhalable infectious particles.
With an N95 filtering facepiece respirator (FFR), the user has 1-10% inward leakage and outward leakage. Workers need a fit-tested respirator to prevent inhalation of infectious particles. Better respirators with higher protection factors should be used for high particle concentrations. (See chart “Efficacy of Various Masks Against COVID-19”)
No source control: We’re not prepared for another pandemic.
At the start of COVID-19, many manufacturers jumped into the PPE space. However, without formal support and ongoing domestic contracts, many of these businesses have been forced to close. This will result in the North American market having to return to relying on supply coming from offshore manufacturers. The supply chain problems are very concerning, because there are so many downstream effects that can be easily avoided. If workers are given masks with reliable protection against infection, problems along the supply chain would be minimal, and the economy could start to repair itself. This pandemic has proven that we need to be able to control our domestic manufacturing. It’s not a question of if, but when the next pandemic hits, and we are not prepared to protect our healthcare workers and population.
The environmental impact of medical masks & disposable N95s is alarming!
The COVID-19 pandemic is estimated to generate 72,000 tons of medical waste everyday, most of which are disposable masks. Healthcare professionals are required to toss their disposable N95 after each patient interaction. Disposable N95 waste alone will generate 6,700lbs/1,000 people/year. How can we make public health a priority while simultaneously destroying the health of our planet?
Elastomeric respirators are a sustainable solution and are designed to be cleaned, decontaminated and reused. Because of this feature, one elastomeric can do the work of hundreds, if not thousands, of disposable N95 masks. Many hospitals and healthcare facilities have already converted to elastomeric half mask respirators programs. Allegheny Health Network, as an example, found that within one month, it was able to decrease the number of N95 masks it needed by 95%.
The time to upgrade is now.
In terms of right now, and with the rapid spread of the new Omicron variant, any public space and business could and should move to elastomeric masks. In order to slow and stop the spread, we need to make high-grade mask protection a priority for all healthcare workers, teachers, grocery store employees and workers on factory lines. Anywhere you are near others, you should be wearing an N95 respirator. We can keep businesses open and the economy going by using this strategy of making high-grade respiratory protection a priority.
The U.S. government is looking to now put elastomeric respirators into widespread use. We can promote higher grade protections for the public with PSAs, government recommendations and regulations—including banning cloth masks in the workplace and having social media giants like Facebook and Twitter letting users know. Mainstream news organizations can work together to highlight the need for everyone to upgrade to masks that offer reliable protection.