THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: For healthcare workers, N95 respirator masks have turned out to be an invaluable line of defence against the coronavirus. Taking into account the shortage and difficulty in procuring them, Kerala has decided to reuse N95 masks. As per an internal memo, the reuse or extended use of N95 masks will have to be considered in non-hotspot areas.
“At present there is no such shortage. But the department is anticipating it. Considering the same, healthcare workers have been told to reuse N95 masks. Though the masks are not approved for reuse as per standard of care, to ensure its continued availability during the pandemic the aspects of reuse/extended use/mask rotation will have to be considered,” said an officer of the health department.
As per the internal memo, reuse of N95 masks is not recommended in areas with ongoing local or community transmission. In addition to that, it has also been decided to prioritise the use of N95 respirators for those personnel at the highest risk of contracting or experiencing complications of infection. However, it has been highlighted that the number of times a mask can safely be reused depends on multiple factors. It includes, whether the user was exposed to aerosolising procedures, how it was stored and whether the mask was soiled.
“Assuming there is no soiling and no viral contamination to the outside of the mask in non-hotspot areas, the masks can be hung to dry or stored in a paper bag in between uses,” reads an excerpt from the memo.
In the case of extended use, the masks can be used for up to eight hours in areas where no local/ community transmission is ongoing. The department is also planning mask rotation. Public health experts say that the extended use and reuse of N95 masks are not averse from risks, which includes loss of facial fit, loss of filtration effectiveness and risk of infection spread.