Coronavirus face mask: Are N95 masks reusable? What does the N in N95 stand for?

Coronavirus has now infected tens of thousands around the world, many of these from the country of origin – China. In the UK, 19 people have now been diagnosed with the virus, after Wales reported its first patient and two more sufferers were identified in England.

On Friday, news came of the first British death from coronavirus – known as COVID-19 – after he was quarantined onboard a cruise ship named the Diamond Princess.

The man was the sixth to have died from the ship after Japanese health authorities ordered a 14-day quarantine for all on board.

Passengers who had tested negative were allowed to disembark at the end of the two weeks.

Health minister Jo Churchill has said she was aware a British man who had been on board the ship was “very poorly”.

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So far, China has reported nearly 80,000 cases and almost 3,000 deaths, while the virus has reached nearly 60 countries with more than 80 deaths.

As the virus continues to spread, seeing people wearing face masks while out in public is becoming more common.

However, if you wear a regular surgical mask, you are not protected from the virus as some may believe.

To protect against coronavirus, a specialised mask – an N95 respirator – can be effective.

However not all medical professionals advise wearing masks due to the difficulty involved in putting on the masks and wearing them for a long period of time.

Are N95 masks reusable?

N95 masks are thicker than a typical surgical mask and can fit around the nose and cheeks to keep out viral particles.

The masks are designed to be disposable and are designed to prevent 95 percent of small particles from entering the lungs.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) states a respirator can be reused as long as it “maintains its structural and functional integrity and the filter material is not physically damaged or soiled.”

The World Health Organization (WHO) states: “masks are effective only when used in combination with frequent hand-cleaning with alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water”.

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What does the N in N95 stand for?

According to the Centre for Disease Control (CDC), the “N” stands for “Not resistant to oil”.

The ‘N95’ designation means that when subjected to careful testing, the respirator blocks at least 95 percent of very small (0.3 micron) test particles.

The evaluation requirements for N95 masks are stricter than for surgical masks and they also have high filtration efficiency.

According to WHO the masks are only required for those looking after patients with coronavirus.

The WHO adds that masks should be removed if they get wet, and the front of them should not be touched.

For those with facial hair, an N95 mask will not be as effective.

In fact, NHS staff have been asked to shave their beards in order to wear face masks effectively.

Medical director Derek Sandeman told colleagues: “I am writing to ask those who do not have a strong cultural or religious reason for a beard and who are working in at-risk areas to consider shaving.

“I recognise for some this is a big ask, that beards are so popular at present.

“However, I do believe this is the right thing to do.”

The NHS has issued advice for preventing the spread of the virus, including frequent handwashing with a soap which contains alcohol, binning used tissues, covering your mouth and nose with your sleeve when you sneeze.

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