Surgical mask shortages in hospitals due to COVID-19

As COVID-19 has emerged and spread in humans, availability of items such as nose-and-mouth (e.g. surgical) masks rapidly decreased because of hoarding, diversion to the black market, increased unnecessary use and increased legitimate use.

Surgical masks are likely to be the first thing we run out of.  The most apparent solution to the problem would be to start reusing surgical masks, but these masks are marketed as single-use items and under normal circumstances are not meant to be re-used.

First things first, The recommended option for health-care workers treating patients with COVID-19 are N95 respirator maskss, because they catch at least 95 percent of particulates (as small as 0.3 micron) and form an airtight seal over the wearer’s nose and mouth. Simpler surgical masks are designed to stop splashes and droplets, and can prevent a sick person from spreading germs to others, but they do not create a seal and are nowhere near as effective as N95 masks at protecting health workers from the viruses. DIY cloth face masks are even less protective than surgical masks. But under extreme circumstances, where facemasks aren’t available, the CDC says homemade masks might be used, combined with other protective gear.

Hopefully this isn’t a problem we’ll have to deal with, but I suspect it will be. I’ve talked to some clinics that are almost out, and I suspect that many clinics will soon be in that situation. We’re monitoring our supplies closely here but no one can predict the course of this outbreak and its short and longterm effects on the supply chain. It’s better to think about things in advance and be prepared, rather than walk into the clinic one day and realize “oh crap, we’re out of masks