Surgical Masks Versus N95 Respirators
When it comes to COVID-19, the Results May Surprise You
April 20, 2023
A recent international, randomized trial set out to determine the differences between surgical masks and respirators when it comes to effectiveness against COVID-19 infection in close-contact healthcare workers (1). Conducted at 27 acute care hospitals and two long-term facilities in four countries, the study found medical masks were non-inferior to N95 respirators.
In other words—there’s not much difference.
Of the healthcare workers participating in the study, PCR-confirmed COVID-19 occurred in 10.5% of those wearing medical masks and 9.3% of healthcare workers using N95 respirators. Certainly, given the obvious differences between the two pieces of equipment, this was far less of a difference than one might expect. In fact, it was a difference small enough to be considered non-significant—thus the “non-inferior” language used in the study.
So is this an indictment of N95 respirators? Certainly not—but one thing we all might take from the study is that medical masks can be confidently used and relied upon in many situations, thus freeing up more N95 respirators for higher risk situations and healthcare workers as opposed to the general public. During the height of the pandemic, there were those who—perhaps unnecessarily—turned to respirators for a longed-for “extra protection” that doesn’t show up in any meaningful statistical way.
While pointing out that medical masks work quite effectively, the CDC has also even gone so far as to make the case that N95 Respirators should be reserved for healthcare providers. In addition to averting potential shortages of the respirators, the agency also points out that healthcare personnel must go through training in the proper wearing of the respirators as opposed to the general public who are under no such requirement.
One other point to remember about the efficacy of masks is the fact they are effective against not just COVID-19 but they can also help reduce the spread of viruses of ALL kinds. So while the pandemic focused our attention just on COVID-19, lessons learned during that difficult time inform how we can protect ourselves and those around us from other viral threats in the future.
Learning from the pandemic is precisely what led to the founding of SafeSource Direct. Reliance on foreign manufacturers for dependable, high-quality medical masks and other PPE led to a partnership between medical providers and American manufacturers to quickly build a wholly domestic, dependable source for PPE critical to healthcare and our nation.
Today, at our state-of-the-art plants in Broussard, Louisiana we can produce up to 27,000 gloves per hour. When additional lines become operational this year, we may be the largest manufacturer of nitrile gloves in the U.S. Our ability to produce, warehouse, and ship PPE means that SafeSource is the only U.S. PPE manufacturer offering Guaranteed Access to 130% flex capacity of normal volume.
Ochsner Health, one of the nation’s leading health systems, is both an owner and a customer of SafeSource Direct. This makes SafeSource the only U.S. provider-owned PPE manufacturer with U.S. provider-owned quality control.
1. Loeb M et al. Medical masks versus N95 respirators for preventing COVID-19 among health care workers: A randomized trial. Ann Intern Med 2022 Dec; 175:1629. (https://doi.org/10.7326/M22-1966)