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Healthcare Systems May Benefit from Elastomeric Masks

By HospiMedica International staff writers
Posted on 23 Jun 2020
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Image: Nurses at an AHN ICU wearing elastomeric masks (Photo courtesy of Highmark Health)
Image: Nurses at an AHN ICU wearing elastomeric masks (Photo courtesy of Highmark Health)
Healthcare systems could offset N95 mask shortages by switching to reusable elastomeric respirator masks, claims a new study.

Researchers at the Allegheny Health Network (AHN; Pittsburgh, PA, USA) conducted a cost-benefit analysis of mask disinfection and reuse that compared industrial style elastomeric P100 masks (with the filter replaced monthly) to N95 masks. The half-facepiece elastomeric mask covers the nose and mouth holds a P100-rated cartridge filter, which filters out close to 100% of airborne particles. At each of the nine AHN hospitals in Pennsylvania and Western New York, the first providers to receive the new masks were respiratory therapists, anesthesia providers, and emergency department and ICU doctors and nurses.

The study, which took place over one month, initially used reusable masks that were shared among workers on different shifts. The masks underwent decontamination between shifts using vaporized hydrogen peroxide, similar to the technique used to sterilize disposable N95 masks. As more masks became available, the workers kept their own mask and disinfected it themselves, according to the manufacturer's guidelines. The cost of the elastomeric mask was USD 20 and the filter cost USD 10, compared with USD 3 for an N95 mask.

The results revealed that within one month, AHN were able to reduce the number of N95 masks needed by almost 95%. They also estimated that the overall cost was conservatively 10 times less per month than that of purchasing disposable N95 masks, and the cost benefit increased the longer the elastomeric mask were used. Another advantage of the elastomeric respirator program was that it did not require any additional hospital resources for implementation. The study was published on May 27, 2020, in the Journal of the American College of Surgeons.

“Elastomeric masks are made of a tight-fitting, flexible, rubber-like material that can adjust to nearly all individuals' faces and can withstand multiple cleanings,” said lead author Sricharan Chalikonda, MD, MHA, chief medical operations officer for AHN. “These devices, which resemble gas masks, use a replaceable filter. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, elastomeric masks offer health care workers equal or better protection from airborne infectious substances compared with N95 masks.”

The N95 designation means that the respirator blocks at least 95% of very small particles, exceeding the capabilities of regular facemasks.


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