What is the predicted potential severity of N95 mask shortages in China if different universal facemask wearing policies were adopted?

Bottom Line:

Although facemasks may be effective in preventing SARS-CoV-2 transmission, universal facemask wearing policies in China (a leading mask producer) would lead to an N95 mask shortage.

Reference:

Wu, H. et al. Facemask shortage and the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak: Reflections on public health measures. EClinicalMedicine (2020). DOI: 10.1016/j.eclinm.2020.100329

Date Published:

2 April 2020

Synopsis:

Although facemask wearing and proper hand hygiene are considered effective measures to prevent SARS-CoV-2 transmission, there is a social concern regarding universal face mask wearing due to a global shortage. The researchers considered the issue of universal facemask wearing in China, performing a review of policies regarding facemasks from government websites and creating mathematical models analyzing the data obtained. Regardless of the potential scope (i.e. a policy in which all regions of mainland China adopted a universal facemask policy vs. only in the epicentre of Hubei province), the researchers determined that such policies would lead to an N95 mask shortage, with a much more severe shortage in the context of a universal facemask wearing policy for the whole of China. N95 facemasks are essential protective equipment for healthcare workers, so maintaining a stable supply with priority for healthcare workers and infected people should be a priority. Instead, the report emphasized other public health measures, including frequent hand-washing, wearing masks and gloves, as well as isolation for both infected and suspected cases.

Summary by: Kathleen Simms