As the coronavirus spreads and more and more victims start flooding our nation’s hospitals, there’s started to be a harrowing drumbeat of news about shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE) in our hospitals, especially the face masks known as N95 masks. Because doctors ordinarily have to discard things such as their face mask after each patient interaction, they are quickly running out.
The CDC has already relaxed the rules around masks, allowing doctors to use construction-grade masks instead of medical ones, but shortages persist. Nurses and doctors talk about needing to use one N95 mask all day, then save it in a paper bag for their next shift. So why don’t they just make N95 masks that can be disinfected and used again? It turns out the answers are complicated and multifaceted: For instance, more easily disinfected masks might hamper patient interaction, and it would be hard to verify that they’re clean. But when we emerge from this crisis, it might be necessary to rethink the fundamental idea of the mask, so we’re more ready for the next pandemic. Read more