Anaesthesia | 2021
Evaluation of N95 respirators, modified snorkel masks and low‐cost powered air‐purifying respirators: a prospective observational cohort study in healthcare workers
Disposable N95 respirator masks are the current standard for healthcare worker respiratory protection in the COVID‐19 pandemic. In addition to shortages, qualitative fit testing can have low sensitivity for detecting poor fit, leading to inconsistent protection. Multiple groups have developed alternative solutions such as modified snorkel masks to overcome these limitations, but validation of these solutions has been lacking. We sought to determine if N95s and snorkel masks with attached high‐efficiency filters provide consistent protection levels in healthcare workers and if the addition of positive pressure via an inexpensive powered‐air purifying respirator to the snorkel mask would provide enhanced protection. Fifty‐one healthcare workers who were qualitatively fitted with N95 masks underwent quantitative mask fit testing according to a simulated workplace exercise protocol. N95, snorkel masks with high‐efficiency filters and snorkel masks with powered‐air purifying respirators were tested. Respiratory filtration ratios were collected for each step and averaged to obtain an overall workplace protocol fit factor. Failure was defined as either an individual filtration ratio or an overall fit factor below 100. N95s and snorkel masks with high‐efficiency filters failed one or more testing steps in 59% and 20% of participants, respectively, and 24% and 12% failed overall fit factors, respectively. The snorkel masks with powered‐air purifying respirators had zero individual or overall failures. N95 and snorkel masks with high‐efficiency filter respirators were found to provide inconsistent respiratory protection in healthcare workers.