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Six Months Into Pandemic, Nurses Still Reusing Masks

Markus Winkler

Local hospitals are still conserving N95 masks and requiring nurses to reuse them.

Shannon Sherman, co-chair of the union that represents registered nurses at Cape Cod Hospital, said employees are expected to re-use an N95 mask for up to five shifts, or until it becomes soiled.

“After each day of use, the hospital has a cleaning apparatus that the masks are cleaned in,” she said. “But we, from Day 1, said that we do not agree with the cleaning of the masks.”

She said cleaning can degrade the integrity of the masks.

The other co-chair of the union, Michelle Brum, said nurses are trained to throw away disposable masks every time they leave a patient’s room.

“It would be nice, as we were trained, to have a new mask each and every time,” she said.

The hospital in Hyannis stocks at least three different models of N95 masks to ensure a proper fit. 

Brum said at the current level of use, Cape Cod Hospital has enough to last between 49 days and 223 days, depending on the model.

Cape Cod Healthcare said its policies comply with state and federal guidelines, and that the company is committed to providing the necessary protective equipment.

According to the nurses, staff have experienced urgent situations in which they had to go looking for an N95 mask, such as when patients who were positive for COVID-19 became disoriented and wandered around.

Sherman said that in a situation like that, staff don’t always have the right protective gear readily at hand.

“That had occurred several times that I know of personally -- from accounts from nurses -- several months ago, when we had more patients in the hospital,” she said. “And that was an immediate concern of ours.”

Brum said a few N95s are stashed in each floor’s “code bag” — the one used for cardiac arrest. It would be more convenient to have them on the isolation cart, where nurses could just grab one, she said.

Cape Cod Healthcare said a committee reviews protective equipment levels and any concerns from union members on a weekly basis.


Hospitals on Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard, and Nantucket, along with Tobey Hospital in Wareham, had zero patients hospitalized with COVID-19 as of Tuesday’s state report.


Jennette Barnes is a reporter and producer. Named a Master Reporter by the New England Society of News Editors, she brings more than 20 years of news experience to CAI.