A Tiny Hospital in Texas Might Help Solve the Mask Shortage
For decades, staff have used a mask that’s much more effective than the N95, and is reusable
On the southeast side of San Antonio, Texas, a small hospital that faces a shopping mall on what used to be an air force base is suddenly fielding a flurry of calls about a possible solution to the N95 mask shortage.
There, at the Texas Center for Infectious Disease (TCID), staff receive a special mask on the first day of their orientation — it’s theirs to keep and maintain throughout the year. The mask, known as an elastomeric respirator, is made of durable plastic and has a facepiece that goes over the mouth and nose attached to two cartridge filters that attach on the left and right sides.
The durable masks given to hospital workers at TCID are called North 7700 respirators and they’re much more effective than N95 masks.
Over the last month, the coronavirus has wreaked havoc in the United States and caused massive shortages of the N95 respirator masks that health care workers rely on. Some hospital suppliers have reported delays of three to six months for these supplies. Prices of N95 masks have skyrocketed so much that one hospital CEO says that they are paying $7 for these masks rather than the typical cost of 58 cents. The shortage is so severe that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has gone so far as to say that staff at hospitals can wear bandanas in certain circumstances when mask supplies are low. So it’s perhaps no surprise that in recent weeks, TCID, which mainly treats people with tuberculosis, has fielded inquiries about its alternative approach from Maryland, Connecticut, Georgia, Canada, and more. “Word has just spread like wildfire about the things that we’re doing,” says Jessica Gutierrez-Rodriguez, TCID’s hospital administrator.
The durable masks given to hospital workers at TCID are called North 7700 respirators and they’re much more effective than N95 masks. Unlike N95 masks, which filter 95% of particles larger than 0.3 microns in diameter, the P100 cartridges used in the North 7700 masks at the Texas hospitals filter out 99.97% of…