The U.S. now has a solid supply of respirators, and healthcare facilities can begin to transition from decontaminating and reusing disposable masks, according to the Food and Drug Administration.

Emergency use approval for disposable masks has not been revoked, the agency added in a letter to healthcare personnel and facilities on April 9. All respirators approved by the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health, including N95 respirators, single-use respirators and those designed to be reusable remain authorized for use on a continuing basis during the public health emergency.

But the agency now is encouraging limited use only, preferably when no other options are available.

Among the new FDA recommendations:

  • Decontaminated respirators and respirators that have undergone bioburden reduction should be used only when there are insufficient supplies of new filtering facepiece respirators or when new respirators are not obtainable.
  • Facilities should transition away from a crisis-capacity strategy for respirators, such as decontamination of N95 and other filtering facepiece respirators.
  • Facility operators should attempt to increase their inventories of available NIOSH-approved respirators, including N95s and other filtering facepiece respirators, elastomeric respirators, and powered air-purifying respirators, to be used under guidelines from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

“Even if you are unable to obtain the respirator model that you would prefer, the FDA recommends that you obtain and use a new respirator before decontaminating or bioburden reducing a preferred disposable respirator,” the agency stated.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also has updated its strategies for optimizing the supply of N95 masks.

More than 600 filtering facepiece respirators models have been approved for emergency use during the pandemic, of which there are over 530 N95 FFR models, according to the FDA.