With most countries experiencing a second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, the supply of personal protective equipment (PPE) has again become a concern. In the event of a PPE shortage, a study published in JAMA Internal Medicine says there are adequate alternatives to new N95 respirators.
The quality-improvement study evaluated 29 face mask alternatives for use by clinicians interacting with patients during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Of the 29 different fitted face mask alternatives tested on one man and one woman, expired N95 respirators with intact elastic straps and respirators subjected to ethylene oxide and hydrogen peroxide sterilisation had unchanged fitted filtration efficiencies (FFEs) >95 per cent. The performance of N95 respirators in the wrong size had slightly decreased performance (90%-95% FFE).
Surgical and procedural face masks had filtering performance that was lower relative to that of N95 respirators (98.5% overall FFE), with procedural face masks secured with elastic ear loops showing the lowest efficiency (38.1% overall FFE).
This evaluation provides quantitative evidence to guide decisions made by healthcare administrators, supply chain leaders, and hospital epidemiologists to protect clinicians and other healthcare workers during a pandemic or long-term mask shortage.