By Louisa Moller

BOSTON (CBS) – A shortage of N95 respirators is forcing health care professionals and others who come in direct contact with COVID-19 patients to use personal protective equipment longer than the CDC recommends.

Not to be confused with a surgical mask, the N95 is a tight-fitting mask which filters out 95 percent of small particulates, including in this case, respiratory droplets from coronavirus patients.

According to the CDC, N95s, “Ideally should be discarded after each patient encounter and after aerosol generating procedures.”

“In a perfect world you should change it after every patient but that’s not feasible in the situation that we’re in,” said Dr. Albert Northcutt, a family practitioner at DMC Primary Care in Derry, New Hampshire.

Northcutt and his colleagues are now wearing surgical masks over N95 respirators to preserve them for at least a day and they are not alone.

“We have enough to be able to support all staff who use them according to our indications for aerosol-generating procedures in patients known to have COVID or suspected of COVID. We are, however, permitting extended use of the N95s to help sustain our supplies,” said Dr. Paul Biddinger, the Director of Emergency Preparedness for Partners Healthcare.

Northcutt said those donating homemade surgical masks are helping because those masks can be used as a second line of defense.

“You can take that reusable mask, take that off. Send this to the laundry to be cleaned in an appropriate fashion, thus preserving more of [N95s],” he said.

Louisa Moller

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