The Biden administration has taken the first step toward repealing an emergency exception that permitted hospitals to ration and reuse N95 surgical masks, which are the first line of protection for frontline employees and the deadly coronavirus.
Thousands of medical personnel have died as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, all of whom became exposed and poisoned while caring for patients who lacked proper protection.
The Trump administration issued instructions for providers to ration, clean, and reuse disposable devices in response to critical shortages of masks, gowns, swabs, and other medical supplies. Throughout the pandemic, several doctors and nurses were given a N95 mask once a week, which is usually intended to be tossed after of patient.
Manufacturers in the United States now claim to have massive surpluses for sale, and hospitals claim to have three to twelve month stockpiles.
As a result, the government has advised hospitals and healthcare providers to attempt to return to using one mask per patient.
“The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is advising that health care staff and facilities move away from disaster capability conservation strategies,” the department said earlier this month in a letter to healthcare personnel and facilities.
The letter is not an order: hospitals are still allowed to sterilise and reuse N95s under the law. However, the FDA will provide new guidelines in the coming weeks or months and, ultimately, require hospitals to return to single-use, according to Suzanne Schwartz, director of the FDA’s office of strategic alliances and technological advancement.
“The opportunity to decontaminate was strictly a last resort, an extraordinary measure,” Schwartz said. “From the FDA’s standpoint, there is a need for us to return to backup and traditional methods, which is to use the respirator for the interaction, then dispose of it and get a new one. In that regard, we are in agreement with both NIOSH and OSHA.”
The National Nurses Union, the country’s largest voluntary body representing registered nurses, describes the proposed guidelines as “a small step in the right direction.” However, the union, which represents 170,000 nurses, stated that the directive “ultimately fails” to shield nurses because it requires employees to determine what standard N95 supply is.
“But we know the reality—there is plenty of N95 supply,” the union said in a statement asking the administration to amend and implement its requirements.
ICU nurse Mike Hill, who works at a Sutter Hospital in Northern California and is a member of the California Nurses Association, said he and his colleagues currently don’t have unrestricted access to N95 masks.
“I think it’s stupid for Sutter to continue to wear the masks for long periods of time because they’re so cheap, like a dollar apiece. “They should want to protect the nurses because we are the frontline workers,” he added. “It places both the patients and ourselves at risk of infection. They were never meant to be used for an extended period of time.”
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Hill’s colleague, Sutter nurse Janine Paiste-Ponder, 59, was one of hundreds of medical caregivers who died in the past year after being exposed to COVID-19 at work. Following her death in July 2020, a Division of Occupational Safety and Health inquiry at Sutter Health’s Alta Bates Summit Medical Center resulted in a $155,250 fine for various Covid-related workplace safety violations.
Prestige Ameritech CEO Mike Bowen, whose Fort Worth, Texas factory is the largest N95 mask maker in the United States, stated that the systems were intended to be used only once and not repeated from one patient to the next.
He claims to have millions of unsold masks, as do other American manufacturers who spent and ramped up production after the pandemic.
“While nurses begged for clean masks, American N95 manufacturers were stockpiling N95s that hospitals were not purchasing. Starting today, healthcare workers in the United States can and should claim safe, fresh N95 masks,” he added. “The N95 mask scarcity is over,” he declared.
Congresswoman Anna Eshoo called the deadly shortages a “public disgrace” that “could never happen again.”
“This is encouraging news that shows our success in defeating COVID-19,” said the California Democrat. “By reinvesting in a reliable supply of high-quality, American-made PPE, we will ensure that this kind of shortage never occurs again.”