Save the N95s for Those Who Need Them

By Todd Trigg, CRNA

MNA Steward

A few days ago, I was out to do my bi-weekly run for essentials. I had my lists, my route planned, my homemade cloth mask, hand sanitizer, disinfectant wipes to wipe things down. I was ready. I started by going to my local membership warehouse. Once there, I notice a majority of people wearing cloth masks and practicing good social distancing. I saw a few with N95 masks on, and I wondered where they got them and why they choose to wear this mask since it has become such a sacred, very limited, and treasured item to healthcare providers. Everyone in healthcare is re-using their N95 masks, something that just a few months ago would have been inconceivable. So, I try to calm myself by asking, “Are they immunosuppressed?  Is a loved one at home going through chemotherapy?” I complete my shopping and take off for my next place on my list, a local grocery store.

I’m a nurse anesthetist, and during the COVID-19 pandemic, one of the CRNA practices that is getting some attention is intubation, which means inserting a tube so a patient can be placed on a ventilator to assist with breathing. This is an aerosolizing procedure, and we have to wear airborne precaution PPE. Because of the lack of N95s for any non-aerosolizing procedures or patient care that is not considered high risk, our healthcare staff are wearing surgical masks. Many of my fellow healthcare workers would love to have a cache of N95s! And it is hard to put into words what it feels like to see people wearing N95s while out getting groceries.

Next on my errand run was the grocery store. I quickly completed my list, and as I approached the checkout area, I noticed the cashier was wearing an N95 and gloves. I put my items up to be scanned, and in doing so, I had just barely side-stepped the plexiglass partition that had been recently installed. The cashier noticed, stopped, and promptly asked me to position myself to be directly in front of the plexiglass partition and herself. Now I am a rule-following person; I follow the guidelines as set forth by the CDC and others as put in place by any business or institution I am in. But that comment nearly made me break down. I did as instructed by the cashier, but could feel myself wanting to call her out on the use of her N95, the proper use of gloves, my recent experiences as a healthcare provider. However, I did not. I took a deep breath and calmed myself by asking those questions again, “Are they immunosuppressed? Are they so scared…?”

This leads me to my conclusion for writing this. I am scared, just like everyone. I hope and long for the days when things may begin to return to normal, but what is the new normal?  I am just like everyone in that I wonder what will happen next, not only in healthcare but for our nation and the world. I have thoughts that keep me up at night like a lot of people. What will happen at my job tomorrow? When can things start to resume? The list goes on.

I want everyone to continue to follow the CDC guidelines: hand washing, social distancing, covering your mouth and nose, staying at home if not feeling well. I want the general public to know that gloves need be used properly, an N95 needs to be properly fit tested, and right now is so urgently needed that it should be reserved for first responders and healthcare providers. Cloth masks will work to help contain your germs. The more people who wear them, the better. In closing, I remember the words from President Kennedy during his inaugural address “And so my fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” We need this reminder now more than ever.

I’d like to ask everyone to really ask themselves, what can you do for your healthcare workers who are risking their lives to take care of our communities and our country?


  1. It’s so infuriating that all employees with potential exposure to COVID-19 aren’t being protected by OSHA rules either.

    What legal options do healthcare employees have to protect themselves?

    The CDC provides the most updated infection prevention and control recommendations for healthcare workers managing suspected or confirmed cases of COVID-19.

    Employers of healthcare workers are responsible for following applicable OSHA requirements, including OSHA’s Bloodborne Pathogens (29 CFR 1910.1030), Personal Protective Equipment (29 CFR 1910.132), and Respiratory Protection (29 CFR 1910.134) standards. See the Standards page for additional information on OSHA requirements.

  2. Thank you for sharing your experience. It will be extremely interesting to participate in the NNU’s Mad As Hell Monday live conversation today. They are exploring why many nurses have died in the U.S. due to insufficient PPE and infection control protocols; yet, zero RNs have died in Canada.

  3. Todd:

    Very kindly and professional written of your concerns.
    Thank you, as nurses feel the same.

    I am an RN and when out in public I see many individuals shopping with N95 masks, and have wonder where did they get that mask?

    An excellent article to submit to Start Tribune.

  4. I wear them when grocery shopping and I am a nurse. Maybe they are another nurse.

  5. If you go on ebay you can find them there. But they cost
    a arm and a leg


    they buy them from standard home improvement stores. Lowes, Home Depot both also have supplies. There’s plenty of supply chain, my understanding is its an issue of “medical” grade. The fight isn’t against individuals, its against whoever prevents hospitals from using non-medical grade supplies. There’s literally no difference in the mask quality.

  7. I am a soon-to-be 65 year old retired nurse and I have asthma. When I go out in public, a vast majority of people are not wearing masks at all. A cloth mask protects others from me, but if others are not wearing masks I am still vulnerable. I have a few N-95 masks that I bought prior to the COVID pandemic, to protect my lungs when doing dusty chores. I do wear an N-95 when I go out in public, but I have struggled with doing so. I want my fellow health care workers to have adequate PPE. My choosing whether or not to wear wear a previously purchased and used N-95 doesn’t solve that problem. On one hand, wearing an N-95 sets a bad example, I know. But don’t shame me. Until everyone wears a mask, I must protect myself. The real issues are the failure to stockpile adequate supplies, the failure to step up production of PPE, and the failure of the public to follow masking guidelines.

  8. Todd,

    Many of us bought these N95 years before Covid was an issue. I love nurses, I married one and I am proud of her, but even she acknowledges that there is too much hysteria and complaining and it is harming the general public by creating a fear that is disproportionate to the harm. She has worked in both the ER and ICU for over 20 plus years and has seen a few epidemics /pandemics. Interestingly, she has told me that she has seen pandemics that were far worse especially on her mission trips.

    I appreciate the work that you do but you are not the only first responders. In fact, the public has been very warm towards nurses, so why not accept this with some humility and gratitude; rather than constantly point out shortcomings that the entire civilized world has also had to deal with during this crisis? Could we do better- most assuredly yes, but there is a learning curve. All nations become apathetic about possible threats until that threat materializes. Covid is no different in this regard. Thanks for all of your efforts.

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