Since the start of the pandemic, the most terrifying task in health care was thought to be when a doctor put a breathing tube down the trachea of a critically ill COVID-19 patient.

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A stack of 3M brand N95 particulate respirators on July 28, 2020, in San Anselmo, California. According to a new analysis of federal data, N95 and surgical masks are still in short supply in many nursing homes.

Those performing such “aerosol-generating” procedures, often in an intensive care unit, got the best protective gear even if there wasn’t enough to go around, per Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines. And for anyone else working with COVID-19 patients, until a month ago, a surgical mask was considered sufficient.

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