Why the N95 mask is so important for health care workers

Published: Mar. 31, 2020 at 4:07 PM EDT
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Personal protective equipment is what health care workers wear to protect themselves from contracting COVID-19. PPEs includes gowns, gloves, face shields or goggles and masks, the N95 mask in particular. Our Kelly O'Brien spoke to a nurse who explained why these masks are so important to keep health care workers safe and what the shortage means for the staff members who don't have them.

"They call it a particulate respirator which just means it's a really thick mask," said Debra Galatioto of Hudson Headwaters Health Network.

The N95 masks fit to the face of the person who's wearing them.

"Kind of make sure that if it's fitted correctly that you are breathing through the mask and not around the mask. If you are breathing around the mask, you could pull in germs," Galatioto explained.

The masks are not worn by everyone at the hospital, only those coming in direct contact with COVID-19.

"Let's say I were to stick a swab in your nose to see if you have COVID. That's going to make you cough and sputter and that's going to make your germs go into the air. That's why it's so important I have that special mask on my face to protect me from you," Galatioto said. "It's filtering out droplets that are so small you can't see them."

There is a shortage nationwide from so many people buying the masks, health care workers or not.

When it comes to reusing the masks, the CDC allows for limited reuse under certain conditions.

"Clean my hands first, handle them a certain way so that I'm not touching the sides inside or out and put them in a paper bag to remain moisture-free. That's only if I know nothing has been directly sprayed on that mask," Galatioto said.

Galatioto says the only people who need N95 masks are the ones coming in close contact with COVID-19, otherwise, a normal mask will do the trick to help ease the public's nerves.

"If you want to wear a mask to contain your own germs, which is why most people in the community do it, a regular mask will work or a homemade mask, a scarf or bandana, something like that," she said.

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