The efficacy of continuous use disposable N95 masks in clinical practice in the emergency department

Am J Emerg Med. 2021 Feb 5;44:124-127. doi: 10.1016/j.ajem.2021.02.003. Online ahead of print.


During the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, many emergency departments (EDs) initiated continuous use of N95 disposable respirators (N95s) rather than discarding them after each use to conserve respirators. This study investigates the efficacy of wearing disposable N95s continuously during clinical work.

Methods: This is a prospective cohort study of ED staff required to wear N95s continuously throughout their shifts. Subjects were doctors, nurses, and technicians who were previously fitted for their assigned N95 by employee health. Subjects were fit tested periodically throughout their shifts. Investigators filled out a questionnaire for each subject noting the hours of continuous N95 wear. Data were analyzed using descriptive statistics.

Results: One hundred thirteen N95s were evaluated, with 23 failures at first testing. These were not retested. Twenty-seven N95s passed at the start of a shift and did not have repeat testing during the course of the shift. These were excluded from further analysis. Seventeen N95s passed testing after several hours of continuous wear, but only had a single fit test done partway or at the end of a shift. These were assumed to have passed if tested at shift start, and were assigned as "passes" for continuous use. Forty-six N95s had an initial pass and were evaluated for continuous use, of which 6 subsequently failed later in the shift, giving a fail rate with continuous use of 9.5%.

Conclusion: Continuous use of disposable N95s throughout an ED shift is reasonable during a PPE shortage if wearers are assured of fit at the start of their shift.