When the COVID-19 outbreak first hit, one thing was abundantly clear: We, as a country, were unprepared.

There were dwindling supplies of N95s, surgical masks and disposable gloves.

As a result, healthcare workers were being told to reuse their N95 respirators which would ordinarily be disposed of after one patient interaction. The situation was so dire that private citizens were encouraged to donate unopened respirators to hospitals.

The Toronto Star reported a memo from Unity Health Toronto informing hospital staff that they had been “collecting used N95 masks instead of throwing them away.” The plan was to reuse decontaminated respirators.

Fast forward to April 2021 and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recommends healthcare professionals and facilities discontinue the practice of reusing N95 filtering facepiece respirators.

“From the FDA’s perspective, there is a need for us to move back towards contingency and conventional strategies,” said Suzanne Schwartz, director of the FDA’s office of strategic partnerships and technology innovation. “You use the respirator for the interaction and then you dispose of it and get a new one. We are in unison, in sync, with both NIOSH and OSHA in that position.”

Why the FDA’s recommendation is so important for Canadians:

This FDA recommendation is so important because it means U.S. manufacturer supply has now met demand. Hospitals in the U.S. have three to 12 month stockpiles according to CTV news.

And while the Public Health Agency of Canada is still permitting healthcare facilities to reuse N95s, this FDA recommendation means healthcare facilities in Canada have access to a safer, better option.

FFRs are considered single-use medical devices. However, given the current crisis, extending the usability of these respirators through reprocessing and reuse can be considered to enable the continued availability of these devices. Health Canada is assessing the acceptability of various decontamination methods for the reprocessing of single-use FFRs.
Public Health Agency of Canada statement on reuse of filtering facepiece respirators (FFRs)

What options are available?

We are seeing more disposable N95 options on the market. We recently shared the news about receiving our first shipment of Canadian-made 3M™ N95 respirators.

In December 2020, NIOSH approved the use of elastomeric half-mask respirators (EHMR) without an exhalation valve.

NIOSH said the use of EHMR would “ease the demand for single-use N95 respirators in healthcare settings” due to their low cost, ease of use and ability to be easily cleaned and decontaminated.

product shot of elastomeric half-mask respirator dentec reusable nxmd N95 respirator

product shot of the 3M Aura disposable N95 respirator with orange button reading shop now

The concern with reusing N95 respirators:

The main concern is a decrease in the fit and filtration performance of N95 filtering facepiece respirators when reused according to the Centre for Disease Controls and Prevention (CDC). “N95 FFR performance will decrease as the number of hours and number of donning and doffings increase.” Wearers must still perform a user seal check when donning a reused respirator.

An N95 should not be reused more than five times according to NIOSH. This number is based on research NIOSH conducted to determine how many times a filtering facepiece respirator could be safely reused. Twenty consecutive fit tests were conducted during the study. A fit factor greater than 100 was considered “passing” and a fit factor less than 100 was considered “failing.” The results below show a decrease in mean percent passing fit tests over the grouped sets of five donnings.

mean percentage of fit tests with a fit factor less than 100 by the FFR model
Source: CDC.gov “Implementing Filtering Facepiece Respirator (FFR) Reuse

Have more questions?

Levitt-Safety has been Canada’s leader in fit testing and respiratory safety for decades. Contact us today if you have questions about the best filtering facepiece respirator or to place an order for any of the N95 respirators mentioned in this post.

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Michael Douglas

National Manager, Marketing Segments

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