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Support for Elastomeric Respirators in Healthcare Settings Gains Momentum

September 16, 2022

The U.S. government has promoted the use of elastomeric respirators in healthcare settings since the early 1990s, when federal health officials recommended they be used to prevent the spread of tuberculosis. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention promoted elastomeric respirators during the SARS outbreak of 2003 and the swine flu pandemic of 2009. A few studies since then have suggested that reusable elastomeric respirators should be essential gear for frontline medical workers during a respiratory pandemic, which experts predicted would quickly deplete supplies of disposable N95 respirators. But when the coronavirus swept the globe and China cut off exports of N95s, elastomeric respirators were nowhere to be found in most hospitals and health clinics in the United States.

A New York Times article published this summer highlights how the use of elastomeric respirators was not significantly promoted during the COVID pandemic, despite American mask producers, health policy experts, and nursing unions pressing federal officials to aggressively promote their use.

Emily Haas, a scientist at the CDC’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), told the New York Times, “There’s been so much research in the last 10 years that has really supported elastomerics, so in many ways, the issue right now is cultural. No one likes change and introducing a whole new respiratory protection system can be a heavy lift.”

James C. Chang, an industrial hygienist at the University of Maryland Medical Center, persuaded the hospital to purchase 1,500 elastomerics after the 2009 swine flu pandemic. The decision was based partly on research that predicted a respiratory pandemic lasting more than a few weeks would lead to catastrophic supply-chain shortages. “It was a real success story because our staff had respirators to wear, and they felt more reassured wearing elastomerics than wearing N95s,” said Chang.

Allegheny Health Network of Western Pennsylvania, another hospital system to adopt elastomerics on a large scale, distributed 8,000 respirators to 14 hospitals early in the pandemic. According to Sricharan Chalikonda, Allegheny’s chief medical operations officer, none of the employees have gone back to wearing N95s.

Unlike elastomerics mentioned in the New York Times article that had to be altered to prevent the spread of unfiltered exhalation, ElastoMaskPro™ is an advanced elastomeric respirator designed without an exhalation valve. Instead, all exhalation passes through Filter Puck technology to maintain a hygienic work environment while being extremely breathable. Studies show ElastoMaskPro is 3 to 5 times easier to breathe through than many elastomeric respirators and 2 to 3 times easier than many disposable N95 respirators. Frontline workers in the public health community asked for innovation in respirator design, and now they have it with the ElastoMaskPro.

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