(WASHINGTON)—A new report from the Project On Government Oversight (POGO) reveals that healthcare workers have received conflicting federal guidance on how to safely use expired N95 respirator masks and alternative masks during the COVID-19 pandemic, adding to the confusion and panic over a lack of medical supplies and potentially putting lives at risk.
Healthcare workers are facing a shortage of N95 masks, which offer protection from 95% of tiny particles in the air and in fluids. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued guidance in March suggesting that healthcare workers can use surgical masks, or even bandanas or scarves as a “last resort,” if N95 masks are unavailable. But this conflicts with Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) statements, leaving healthcare workers confused about how to protect themselves. The conflicting messages prompted the American Nurses Association to send a letter to Congress, asking lawmakers to demand that the CDC back up its guidance with data.
The U.S. has also started tapping into the millions of N95 masks in the Strategic National Stockpile, but about 40% of those are expired. The CDC issued guidance in February stating that some types of expired masks, if stored properly, should still offer the same level of protection, but findings vary by model of the N95 mask.
“It’s particularly important in times of crisis that the federal government issue clear and consistent guidance to the workers on the front lines. It’s troubling to see the CDC and OSHA sending conflicting messages to workers dealing with COVID-19, adding to the confusion and chaos this pandemic has sowed,” said Danielle Brian, executive director of the Project On Government Oversight. “POGO urges the agencies to coordinate their response and issue clear, safe guidelines to the healthcare workers caring for COVID-19 patients.”
Founded in 1981, the Project On Government Oversight (POGO) is a nonpartisan independent watchdog that investigates and exposes waste, corruption, abuse of power, and when the government fails to serve the public or silences those who report wrongdoing.
We champion reforms to achieve a more effective, ethical, and accountable federal government that safeguards constitutional principles.