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COVID: Mask question answered

| December 30, 2020 1:00 AM

I feel I need to respond to the question that Janet Cooke raised in her Letter to the Editor. She asked, “If infected health care workers numbers are continuing to climb in Idaho, how can they say that masks are effective?”

In high risk areas, health care workers use a specialized mask, the N95. These masks are designed to be a single use item. Because of the national shortage of the N95 mask, health care workers are having to reuse their masks.

Studies are just being done about how decontamination techniques affect the efficiency of the mask. Initial studies show that the integrity of the mask decreases each time it is decontaminated. Decontaminating a mask with UV light, as is done at Kootenai Health, is one of the top recommended ways to decontaminate a mask. Recent studies show that decontamination with UV light renders a mask below an acceptable level after the third UV light treatment.

Patients on ventilators require frequent repositioning. While turning a patient, the tubing can pop off the endotracheal tube and blast the caregivers with aerosolized virus. Non-vented patients require high flow oxygen which also aerosolizes the virus. These patients cough, cough, cough. A patient who decompensates and requires an ambu bag (manual ventilation) until they can be placed on a ventilator will also aerosolize the virus. The scenarios go on and on.

Health care workers are like the rest of us in that many have pre-existing conditions such as diabetes and other auto-immune disorders that put them at a higher risk. Fortunately, our staff at Kootenai Health have not had to deal with the extreme shortage of PPE (personal protective equipment) that places like New York had where staff were given one N95 mask per week and had to wear garbage bags for protection.

I hope the day will come quickly when our health care workers can return to using the N95 mask per the recommendations of the manufacturer — as a single use item.

JENNIFER DORN, RN

Coeur d’Alene