Can I get an N95 Mask before traveling for my surgery? Is it ethical?
June 3, 2020 2:38 PM   Subscribe

I have a surgery scheduled in two months, and I will need to travel to the surgeon by plane. I don't want to catch COVID while I travel for surgery, and will definitely wear some kind of mask. I'm going to make a homemade mask with fusable interfacing as a filter. But I'm wondering if I should consider an N95 or KN95 mask, and if so, where can I buy legitimate ones. Is it even ethical for me to seek them out, or is the shortage still at the point that getting a handful for just this would be too much?

I don't like that it's scheduled for now, but it's covered by my old work's insurance and my COBRA will only last for so long. My new work's insurance does not cover the surgery.

I only plan on using these masks while traveling to and from the surgeon's area. Otherwise, I'll just wear DIY cloth masks or stay indoors.

I'm fully prepared to hear "No, take your chances." I only know so much about the state of N95 mask production from the news.
posted by ikea_femme to Health & Fitness (17 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
My understanding is that the KN-95 masks are made to Chinese standards, which differ from American standards. There was a brief window where US hospitals were allowed to use them I think that got quickly reversed. KN-95 masks are readily available while the N95 masks are prioritized for hospitals and medical facilities, at least on Amazon, so I think a real N95 would be hard/impossible to find via legitimate channels. I would feel no hesitation about using a KN-95 mask in this situation.
posted by metahawk at 2:44 PM on June 3, 2020 [8 favorites]

According to the CDC website:

A surgical N95 (also referred as a medical respirator) is recommended only for use by healthcare personnel (HCP) who need protection from both airborne and fluid hazards (e.g., splashes, sprays). These respirators are not used or needed outside of healthcare settings.
posted by nkknkk at 2:53 PM on June 3, 2020

IMHO, go for a KN95; even Monoprice is carrying them now.
posted by aramaic at 2:54 PM on June 3, 2020

Response by poster: Great, I am happy to settle for a KN95 if they're close but not the same as N95 masks but hospitals are discouraged from using them. I imagine they're probably better than most homemade options.
posted by ikea_femme at 2:58 PM on June 3, 2020 [1 favorite]

FYI, all N95 masks are not surgical N95 masks. If it's possible for you to purchase non-surgical N95s (and that's a big if, honestly), I don't think there's any ethical reason not to do so. This is the type of N95 that's normally available at hardware/big box home improvement stores, and is what you'd wear to protect yourself from dust or smoke exposure.
posted by pullayup at 3:00 PM on June 3, 2020 [5 favorites]

Best answer: I have read discussions of the safety of air on airplanes, and was reassured to hear that the frequent air exchange, and the constant influx of fresh air from outside the plane reduces the risk of infection spread significantly. Of course, it's not nothing, and highly infectious illnesses like measles, for example, do spread, but Covid 19 is significantly less infectious than measles.

I think using a KN-95 mask would reassure you and add a layer of protection in case you are seated near someone who is unknowingly infectious. And I would prioritize flying with a carrier that requires passengers and staff wear masks. In two months there will no doubt still be lots of Covid 19 around, but more resistance and fatigue around wearing masks.

Good luck with your surgery!
posted by citygirl at 3:08 PM on June 3, 2020 [2 favorites]

If you are going to get a KN95 or N95, be aware that if it comes with a valve, you should wear a surgical or cloth mask over it in order to protect others in case you are a carrier. Or just get one without a valve.
posted by maudlin at 3:33 PM on June 3, 2020 [5 favorites]

Mask examples; re-usable half-face filter type. Remember eye protection, too. Good luck on your surgery.
posted by Iris Gambol at 3:40 PM on June 3, 2020

Best answer: Contact the surgeon’s office and ask if they can send you one. I work for a surgeon and would be happy to ship an N95 to a patient.
posted by tatiana wishbone at 3:58 PM on June 3, 2020 [20 favorites]

I recently bought KN95 masks. They have ear loops rather than ties that you tie around your head. While researching something else, I happened to discover some articles that say that real KN95 masks (or any 95 masks), ALWAYS have ties that go around the head, and never loops that go around the ears -- because the latter leave space around the mask, compromising its ability to ward off small particles. Any KN95 masks with ear loops are COUNTERFEIT, I read. So be careful ordering KN95's.
posted by DMelanogaster at 4:20 PM on June 3, 2020 [2 favorites]

N95 respirators only protect the wearer when the wearer has first gone through a fit test to determine which size/brand works best for their specific facial structure and then received training on how to take the respirator off without contaminating themselves and exposing themselves to the pathogen.

Without the fit test and the training, the N95 is not protecting you.

It's unlikely that you'd be able to purchase a legitimate, NIOSH-approved respirator anyway, so questions of ethics are largely moot here.

(Source: I am a registered nurse working in the operating room at a level I trauma center.)
posted by jesourie at 5:04 PM on June 3, 2020 [8 favorites]

We use P100 masks that we got from box stores for home renovations When we got out in public. They filter particles as well as the N95, the main difference being they are not designed to withstand droplets. They filter far more out of the air than a cloth mask does though. For casual exposure during traveling, it should suit your needs.
posted by Suffocating Kitty at 7:14 PM on June 3, 2020 [1 favorite]

A welding supply store I recently visited had a ton of masks out for sale, not sure if they were P100 or N95.
posted by 445supermag at 7:32 PM on June 3, 2020

Best answer: It is ethical to purchase and wear a mask to protect yourself. If you get infected en route, you expose your surgeon and their staff. That's the opposite of helping them and contra to your considerate question.

To best protect healthcare workers, do the utmost to remain uninfected yourself (and certainly do the work to about infecting others). Don't get all contaminated on your way to the hospital. I like the suggestion to contact them and see if they might have a mask (and possibly useful information) for you.

There are masks which make a good seal to the face for a very wide range of faces. 3M respirators with detachable filters (see links from Iris Gambol) do this just fine. I have, as a part of my employment, received a fitting and training in how to use them. In practical terms we picked a size medium (my wife wears a small), put it on, and tightened the straps a bit. There are training videos on YouTube from 3M and other reputable sources. Thank you for being considerate. Please protect yourself as best you can.
posted by fake at 8:36 PM on June 3, 2020 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I am concerned about the number of misstatements of the differences regarding KN95/N95 and what makes for a good mask in this thread. There is a LOT of misinformation out there right now and I want Mefites to not inadvertently add to the confusion.

Rather than getting into a line by line argument with other responders, I want to instead share with you primary sources that may assist you in thinking about this. Because of the amount of confusion on this, I am asking other posters cite to reputable sources when making their statements on things they've heard or read.

Guidance on usage of masks
ADA - Interim Guidance on Mask and Face Shield Usage
OSHA Video on properly fitting and wearing a N95 Respirator

KN95/N95 Differentiation
3M's guide on the difference between K95 and N95
PRIMARY: CDC NIOSH-Approved Particulate Filtering Facepiece Respirators (with discussion on differences between N, R, P, 95/99/100 designations
SECONDARY: ADA - Understanding Mask Types

FDA Authorized KN95 manufacturers
FDA's Regularly updated list of Authorized Imported, Non-NIOSH Approved Respirators Manufactured in China - KN95 Masks

Avoiding Counterfeit/Non-authorized Masks
PRIMARY: CDC Guide to identifying counterfeit masks
SECONDARY: ADA - Tips to Avoid Counterfeit Masks and Sketchy Websites
posted by Karaage at 6:20 AM on June 4, 2020 [16 favorites]

The website I viewed, which evaluated three or four styles of masks, settled on the "University of Florida Health Services" style with the addition of first aid tape under the chin to better seal it to the face. So that is something you can do for a better fit.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 10:05 AM on June 4, 2020

Response by poster: I went ahead and ordered a North 7700 respirator and P100 cartridges from ULine, where I was pleasantly surprised to see they were in stock and priced about the same as Amazon, without the third-party sellers. I'm figuring I can wear it for times where I'm in a denser setting, and switch to a good quality cloth mask when the respirator is uncomfortable or inappropriate. I got five pairs of the P100 filters. That must be enough for time spent indoors, and when I'm on the airplane or outdoors, where the air is less stagnant, I might be fine with the cloth masks.

I also plan to come up with some kind of cloth covering for the vent on the respirator. I wonder if I could just hang a mask across the filter? If not, my roommate sews, and I crochet. We have supplies. We'll manage.

I'll also ask the surgeon if he could send me an N95. Hopefully, there's enough to spare.

I can't thank all of you enough! It's incredibly hard to know what's right with everything changing so fast. I especially appreciate Karaage's great collection of sources.
posted by ikea_femme at 10:40 PM on June 4, 2020

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