Prior to the current international health crisis, most health care workers would rarely need an N95 mask. The tight-fitting respirators use non-woven fibers to keep particles as small as viroids from passing through, either in or out, and they’re excessive for most health-care uses. Physician Sidnee McElroy, doctor and educator, reports that before COVID-19, she’d only worn one on the rare occasions she encountered a patient with active tuberculosis.
Suddenly, with the pandemic spread of the new variety of coronavirus, N95s are both vital and desperately under-manufactured. Health-care workers treating COVID-19 patients are reusing their masks or improvising inadequate versions from home-made supplies. Largely due to shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE), doctors and nurses have been over-represented among the infected, even among the dead.
The Home Depot, the large home improvement and construction supply company, is stepping into a medical supplier role in response to the shortages. Announced on April 1 but no April Fool’s joke, the company will be halting all private sales of N95 masks and donating their entire supply to hospitals, health care workers, and first responders.
The Home Depot typically sells them to contractors because they’re a common protection for people working in high-particle jobs, like dry wall, cement-cutting, or mining, or for people risking infection such as sanitation workers or exterminators. They were first invented for coal miners.
Several weeks ago, the company ceased resupplying masks to individual stores and asked each store to donate whatever they have left in supply locally. But when stores continued to sell them to the public, the corporate directive was put out, called a ‘stop sale.’
The corporation is also donating other relevant PPE as they find it in inventory. They will continue to use their supply chain and distributors to try to find more supplies to make them available to health-care workers.