Popular N95 Masks Only Needed For Workers Treating Extreme Coronavirus Cases, Researchers Say

Doctor: “There is not convincing evidence that loose-fitting medical masks are inferior to N95 respirators.”

HAMILTON, Ontario — The outbreak of coronavirus around the globe is stretching medical supplies to their limits. Growing demand for advanced medical masks are leaving healthcare workers in desperate situations, but is hi-tech equipment really needed to keep you safe from COVID-19? Researchers now say the most popular type of respirator masks should be saved for medical workers treating patients with severe cases of coronavirus.

According to McMaster University in Canada, a basic, loose-fitting medical mask works just as well for protecting against the spread of COVID-19. Researchers say the popular N95 respirator mask should be used by healthcare workers who carry out tasks like inserting tubes into a patient’s throat.

Experts Still Debating Which Face Mask To Wear

“There is not convincing evidence that the loose-fitting medical masks are inferior to N95 respirators,” Dr. Mark Loeb, a professor of pathology and molecular medicine at McMaster said in a statement. “But the N95 respirators are unanimously recommended by national and international guidelines for aerosol generating procedures.”

Loeb, an infectious disease doctor, notes that N95 respirators are most needed for those high-risk procedures that see patients coughing up more of the virus into the air around them. The professor sides with the World Health Organization and Canadian Public Health Agency, saying a standard face mask is fine for anyone treating non-emergency coronavirus patients.

“Although COVID-19 transmission is not fully understood, it’s believed to be mainly through respiratory droplets, and the medical masks provide barrier protection for that, and prevent hand to face contact,” Loeb explained.

Not all experts are convinced that a regular medical mask is good enough when treating people infected with COVID-19. The McMaster University study notes that both the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the European Centre for Disease and Prevention both urge people to wear the N95, even during routine medical work.

Preserving Vital Supplies

Loeb and others hope the research will convince the public to conserve the shrinking supplies of the tight-fitting respirators.

“This evidence to support the relative effectiveness of medical masks compared to N95 respirators in routine care, might help preserve stockpiles of N95 respirators,” Jessica Bartoszko, one of the paper’s authors said.

Loeb and a team of researchers are now expanding their work. They are testing the effectiveness of standard masks versus N95 respirators in several locations where patients with respiratory illnesses are being treated.

“This study is critical to ensure we’re using personal protective equipment correctly during this, and any future infectious disease outbreak,” Loeb concluded.

The study’s findings are published in the journal Influenza and Other Respiratory Viruses.

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