A lack of PPE (personal protective equipment) is still a national issue, which is affecting Jefferson's County first responders.

A lack of PPE (personal protective equipment) is still a national issue, which is affecting Jefferson’s County first responders. The supply of N95 masks are critically low, which is the first line of defense for front line workers against the coronavirus.

Pine Bluff Fire Department Chief Shauwn Howell says the fire department has a minimal supply and they are managing their use of the masks very carefully.

“We have to stretch what we have because of the uncertainty of the replacements,” said Howell. “Our biggest concern is every time we place an order here recently, it’s been a late time getting them delivered. You just don’t know how long it’s going to take to get that next shipment in.”

Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge announced Thursday morning that Sherwin-Williams will donate 3,000 N95 facemasks to law enforcement and first responders in the State of Arkansas. At the Attorney General’s request, the personal protective equipment (PPE) will be allocated to the Association of Arkansas Counties and the Arkansas Municipal League who will disperse them at the local level.

“Arkansas law enforcement and first responders already work in high-risk environments and with this health crisis it is even more important for us to use every resource to protect those who protect us,” said Attorney General Rutledge. “Thank you to Sherwin-Williams for recognizing the needs of our law enforcement officers and first responders. In the future I hope more businesses will be in a position to work with our State and local leaders to protect all of those who protect us.”

According to Howell, once shipments pf PPE arrive, they are distributed through the Office of Emergency Management.

“A couple of orders that were on back order finally showed up,” said Howell. “That was a plus but it took us awhile to get them. We were told that they weren’t sure when we would get some more because everything is so back ordered right now.”

Since the COVID19 public health emergency declaration on March 11, Rutledge has allocated $1 million to the State to acquire personal protective equipment.

N95 respirators are the PPE most often used to control exposures to infections transmitted via the airborne route, but with the national shortage some first responders are opting to reuse their mask.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, extended use is favored over reuse because it is expected to involve less touching of the respirator and therefore less risk of contact transmission.

The CDC also says there is no way of determining the maximum possible number of safe reuses for an N95 respirator as a generic number to be applied in all cases.

“Safe N95 reuse is affected by a number of variables that impact respirator function and contamination over time,” said CDC in a Pandemic Planning release. “However, manufacturers of N95 respirators may have specific guidance regarding reuse of their product.”

If no manufacturer guidance is available, preliminary data suggests limiting the number of reuses to no more than five uses per device to ensure an adequate safety margin.

Although extended use and reuse of respirators have the potential benefit of conserving limited supplies of disposable N95 respirators, concerns about these practices have been raised said the CDC.

According to the CDC some devices have not been FDA-cleared for reuse and some manufacturer’s product user instructions recommend discard after each use (i.e., “for single use only”), while others allow reuse if permitted by infection control policy of the facility.

The most significant risk is of contact transmission from touching the surface of the contaminated respirator. According to the CDC, one study found that nurses averaged 25 touches per shift to their face, eyes, or N95 respirator during extended use.

Contact transmission occurs through direct contact with others as well as through indirect contact by touching and contaminating surfaces that are then touched by other people explained the CDC in their Pandemic Planning release.

Howell said even though the idea has come up for multi, use right now they are only using their mask once but is concerned there will be an issue when it’s time to replace the masks.

“Right now, as far as replacement down the road, that’s still an issue,” said Howell. “If we go through what we have now, we don’t know when will be able to get some more.”