N95 Masks, Now Plentiful, Should No Longer Be Reused: FDA
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The Biden administration has taken the first step toward ending an emergency exception that allowed hospitals to ration and reuse N95 medical masks, the first line of defense between frontline workers and the deadly coronavirus. Critical shortages of masks, gowns, swabs, and other medical supplies prompted the Trump administration to issue guidelines for providers to ration, clean, and reuse disposable equipment.

Thus, throughout the pandemic, once a week many doctors and nurses were issued an N95 mask, which is normally designed to be tossed after each patient. Now U.S. manufacturers say they have vast surpluses for sale, and hospitals say they have three to 12-month stockpiles. In response, the government says hospitals and healthcare providers should try to return to one mask per patient.

The letter is not an order: hospitals are still legally permitted to sterilize and reuse N95s. But in the coming weeks or months, the FDA will issue updated guidance and, eventually, require hospitals to revert to single-use, said Suzanne Schwartz, director of the FDA’s office of strategic partnerships and technology innovation.

“The ability to decontaminate was purely a last resort, an extreme measure,” Schwartz said. “From the FDA’s perspective, there is a need for us to move back towards contingency and conventional strategies, which is, 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.”

The National Nurses Union, the largest professional association of registered nurses in the country, calls the new guidance a tiny step in the right direction. But the organization, representing 170,000 nurses, said the direction ultimately fails to protect nurses because it allows employers to use their discretion about what normal N95 supply is.

While nurses pleaded for clean masks, American N95 makers were filling their warehouses with N95s that hospitals weren’t buying. Starting today, America’s healthcare workers can and should demand clean, new N95 masks. Congresswoman Anna Eshoo said the deadly shortages were “a national embarrassment and should never happen again.”

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Dr. K●●●●●r     R. G●●●i
Dr. K●●●●●r R. G●●●i Internal Medicine
May 3, 2021Like