As a nurse, you’re on the front lines of the battle against the COVID-19 pandemic, you’re seeing first-hand the effects on both patients and healthcare professionals.
This disease has put enormous strain on not only healthcare workers, but hospitals’ resources. Nowhere have we seen this more than the ongoing struggle to find adequate supplies of personal protection equipment (PPE).
You probably already know that:
Many healthcare facilities are reusing or “reprocessing” single-use PPE, most notably N95 respirators and facemasks.
It runs exactly opposite to the safety protocols that nurses have drilled into the heads when taught the proper use of PPE. However, during times of crisis, exceptions have to be made and the decision is up to each healthcare facility’s discretion and risk mitigation needs.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) put together guidelines for the proper use and reuse of N95 respirators and face masks which we’ve condensed into a quick reference guide.
You should always refer to the guidance of your hospital, clinic or practice when reusing any PPE.
N95 Respirators and Masks
Both N95 respirators and face masks can be reused, unless they are noticeably dirty, soiled or are difficult to breathe through. If they are, they should be disposed of.
Before decontaminating and reusing an N95 respirator or mask, you need to check for cleanliness, filtration performance and proper fit (bands, nosepiece, seal). If any part of the mask has deteriorated, it can affect the performance of the mask, so it’s better to toss it.
- Can be worn for 8 hours and reused if the inside is clean and maintains breathability
- Should be stored in a breathable, sealable paper bag or container
- Can be worn until noticeably dirty, soiled or damp from breathing
- Store by carefully folding in half with the outer surface facing inward and placing in a breathable paper bag or container
If possible, keep at least 5 masks so you can rotate them every 3 days, storing after each use in the methods described above. Studies have shown COVID-19 stays active on surfaces for up to 72 hours.
Putting It On, Taking It Off
One of the main ways a nurse can infect themself is by carelessly putting their mask on, or taking it off. Here is the list of steps to safely don and doff full PPE gear including mask, eye protection, gown and gloves.
Putting it on:
- Wash your hands or perform hand hygiene with hand sanitizer
- Put on your PPE gown
- Taking mask by the straps, hold bottom front with one hand. With the other put the straps around your head. Make sure to press the nosepiece to fit.
- Put on your face shield or goggles
- Put on gloves
Taking it off:
- Remove your gloves
- Take off gown
- Perform hand hygiene
- Remove eye protection
- Take off mask, being careful to remove it by the straps and not touching the front of it
- Perform hand hygiene
How To Clean Eye Protection
Your face shield or goggles should be regularly cleaned. Use these steps to make sure it’s done right:
- If possible, wear gloves and thoroughly wipe the inside, then outside of the equipment with a disinfecting wipe or neutral cleaner.
- Wipe down the outside with a hospital-grade disinfectant
- Clean off any residue with water or alcohol mixture
- Let air dry or use a microfiber or paper towel to gently dry
Tips On Removing A Gown For Reuse
Even disposable gowns are being reused. They follow the same guidelines as the masks – reuse until they are noticeable dirty or soiled.
Steps on removal:
- If possible, wear clean gloves
- Carefully untie your gown
- Remove by pulling the sleeves forward
- Fold the gown in on itself
- Roll the gown up
- Option #1: Store in a large paper bag or breathable container
- Option #2:You can also hang it, as long as it doesn’t come into contact with other garments
Reusing PPE isn’t ideal – it’s not even suggested by the manufacturer – but in an emergency you make do. You improvise and keep going – it’s what nurses do.
So here’s a big slice of gratitude for all of our nurses out there on the front lines, putting their own safety at risk to treat their patients.
Thank you, and stay safe.
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