The recent Coronavirus (Covid-19) outbreak has created a lot of changes to how daily lives are lived and medical personnel perform their jobs. The shortage of N95 respirators has happened before (SARS, MERS, etc.), just not on this scale. The CDC does not recommend that the general public wears N95 respirators as protection from COVID-19 or other respiratory diseases: the best way to prevent illness is to avoid exposure, and respirators are invaluable to healthcare workers that need the added protection. Unfortunately, many workers are reusing theirs on the grounds that some protection is better than nothing. Is that the safest and most effective course of action, though? These masks were designed to be disposed of after they’re used, so it’s worth asking in the face of a disease outbreak: Are N95 masks reusable?
Extended use is the recommended course of action for handling respiratory pathogen outbreaks. Healthcare personnel wear the same N95 respirator for several patients without removing it as long as those patients are infected with the same pathogen and placed together in a dedicated area. As long as the mask continues to fit securely, they can be worn for a maximum of eight hours depending on environmental conditions. It’s time to change a mask when it becomes difficult to breathe comfortably.