A report from the Washington Post has indicated that the federal government has been sitting on a stockpile of 1.5 million N95 masks, which have since expired and cannot be used, during the Chinese coronavirus pandemic.
The masks were being hoarded in the state of Indiana by Customs and Border Protection in case of an emergency. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) have decided to send the expired masks to Transportation Security Administration, another bureaucracy that has demanded masks during a severe shortage. It is currently unknown whether they will be actually used.
While the masks are expired, they may not be completely useless. The Hill reports that “the masks stay effective if stored properly and that the largest problem with older masks is that the elastic bands on the mask can weaken, which prevents a proper seal from being created against a user’s face,” according to the manufacturers.
Although the mask stockpile may not be completely squandered, this stands out as a particularly egregious case of government ineptitude and mismanagement during a crisis that threatens the well-being and safety of millions.
The CDC has even released guidelines on how to use and reuse a N95 mask that has expired, as medical personnel scrambles to obtain supplies that can adequately handle the pandemic.
“If extended use of N95 respirators is permitted, respiratory protection program administrators should ensure adherence to administrative and engineering controls to limit potential N95 respirator surface contamination,” the CDC writes.
Researchers are also looking into ways to decontaminate N95 masks so they can be reused by doctors and medical staff to treat coronavirus patients as the total of afflicted individuals continues to add up. The researchers can currently clean 500 N95 masks during a four-hour cycle and are working on a method to greatly expedite their process to refurbish the masks.
“The N95 respirator is the most appropriate respiratory protection for patient care personnel attending Covid-19 patients, particularly performing aerosol-producing procedures on those patients,” said Wayne Thomann, director emeritus of the Duke Occupational & Environmental Safety Office, to CNN reporters. “Reprocessing helps us ensure they will have the best PPE to protect them.”
Sadly, the heroes who are working under the gun to stop the coronavirus pandemic will also have to deal with incompetent bureaucracy standing in their way of their solutions as well.