Reusable Elastomeric Respirators: Proper Use by Healthcare Workers

and   |   March 26, 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in a surge of patients to urgent care, emergency room and drive- up testing locations. Healthcare workers depend upon N95 disposable respirators to protect them from exposure to the respiratory droplets that transmit the disease. The supply of N95 respirators is being rapidly depleted as the crisis prolongs. Fabric facemasks do not provide effective protection against the small droplet transmissions.

How to Know If an N95 Respirator is Real or Counterfeit

Elastomeric Half-Face Respirator as an Alternative to N95 in Healthcare Settings

On March 2, 2020, the FDA and CDC authorized the use of other respirators in healthcare to combat the mounting shortage of N95 respirators. A reusable alternative to be considered is the elastomeric half-face respirator with cartridge filtration. These are durable respirators that have been used widely in industry and mining for many years. In fact, they provide an equivalent or higher level of protection against aerosols (infectious or otherwise) as the N95, and the filtration media is generally more efficient than what is typically found on N95 masks. For example, this type of respirator is used to protect against exposure to airborne toxic particulate matter, such as asbestos and lead. Many models are compact enough to fit underneath a face shield.

Modern reusable elastomeric respirator. Credit: Reprinted with permission from MSA—The Safety Company,

Like the N95 respirators, the half-face respirators filter the ambient air to remove contaminants (such as infectious aerosols). Therefore, the fit of the face piece is a critical feature. Individual wearers need to be fit tested to the mask (they come in several sizes, similar to the N95s). Also, these respirators offer a bit more resistance to breathing than the N95 and require medical clearance to wear.

Limitations of their Use

There are some important limitations regarding the use of a half-face respirator versus an N95 respirator in the healthcare setting. All half-face respirators are equipped with an exhalation valve. This means that they are not suitable in situations where a sterile field needs to be maintained. They filter incoming air but do not filter the air exhaled by the user.  Also, because they are reusable, wearers must observe appropriate cleaning and disinfection procedures and store the respirator in a manner that prevents the elastomeric face piece from becoming deformed, damaged or re-contaminated.

These respirators are not meant to be used in public places as a substitute for a face mask during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Emergency Use of Uncertified Respirators
EH&E offers qualified, experienced professionals to perform the fit testing and training required to use these respirators including selecting an appropriate model, disinfection procedures, maintenance and cartridge replacement. Contact us today for help.