The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is recommending that health care personnel and facilities move away from “crisis capacity conservation strategies” of respirators, including the decontamination of N95s for reuse, now that the domestic supply of those respirators has increased.
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, and especially when the supply of new N95s was severely limited, many dental offices were storing the used respirators in clean, breathable paper bags between uses, a practice the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Cal/OSHA recommended last year to extend the life of disposable respirators. That practice should no longer be necessary, according to the FDA’s recommendation.
The April 9 recommendation stated that the supply of new respirators approved by the CDC’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health is sufficient to “facilitate this transition” and that health care personnel should use decontamination and bioburden reduction systems only “when there are insufficient supplies of new filtering respirators or if you are unable to obtain any new respirators.”
Dental offices must continue to comply with Cal/OSHA regulations requiring the use of NIOSH-approved respirators such as N95s during the public health emergency. Although some KN95 respirators received emergency use authorizations by the FDA during the pandemic, the KN95 is not a NIOSH-certified respirator.
Still, if reusable respirators are needed, facilities should first try to acquire respirators like elastomeric respirators and PAPRs. CDA recommends dental practices document details when a supplier is unable to fulfill the practice’s orders for specified respirators.
The FDA stated it will continue to monitor supply and demand as health care facilities transition from crisis conservation to, ultimately, conventional use of respirators. The emergency use authorization for decontamination and bioburden reduction systems will remain in place for now to allow facilities greater flexibility during potential periods of insufficient supply.