An N95 respirator is a type of personal protective equipment (PPE) that is used to protect the wearer's face from contaminants. The type of contaminants it protects from are airborne particles and liquid. An N95 respirator is designed to have a very close fit to the face. The edges will form a seal around the mouth and nose. Because of this seal, they are highly efficient in filtering out airborne particles. They are often used in healthcare establishments and hospitals.
N95 respirators should never be used without being properly fitted. They are not useful to the general public at this time. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is recommending that people do not wear N95 respirators at this time, but instead avoid exposure to virus and practice hand washing. N95 respirators are quite different from a standard surgical mask. While also disposable and intended for single-use, surgical masks are loose-fitting. They are only meant to serve as a physical barrier between the mouth and nose of the wearer. While they may prevent the wearer from being exposed to some of the contaminants in their immediate environment, they do not filter as well as the N95. Standard surgical masks will not protect you from contracting Covid-19, but are useful for people who are sick. Those who may be ill and do not want to spread it can protect others around them by wearing a surgical mask.
Do Not Stockpile
Because N95 respirator supplies can become low during pandemics and outbreaks of respiratory disease, it is important that health care workers have enough N95 respirators to protect them from job-related risks of exposure. If those who are treating us get sick, we have no hope of fighting a pandemic. This is why it is important that civilians do not buy and stockpile all the N95 respirators because it means there may not be enough available for healthcare professionals.
According to NPR, N95 respirators are in short supply and hard to produce. Factories in China that make the N95 respirators are working overtime, while factories that don't make them are being converted into producing N95 respirators. There is a global shortage of melt-blown fabric, an extremely fine mesh used in the inner filtration layer of N95 respirators. This fabric is essential to making N95 respirators and difficult to produce. As the pandemic continues, it is incredibly important that the N95 respirators go to those who need them most: the doctors, nurses, and healthcare workers who are treating the most vulnerable at great personal risk.