About Face Masks

Surgical Mask – These are made out of a material that is rated N95, and were designed to help protect the patient in surgery from being contaminated by mucus from the surgeon working on them. Basically a drip shield. They are designed to be worn once and discarded. The issue with this style mask is not so much the material, but how they fit. They don’t create a tight seal –  there are gaps at the nose, at the cheek, etc. While they do protect from large respiratory droplets (a spray from a sneeze or mucus from a cough), they don’t prevent against airborne droplets. Surgical masks aren’t considered respiratory protection by the CDC because they don’t filter smaller particles, and therefore isn’t effective in totally preventing coronavirus transmission. Wearing a surgical mask can also help to prevent sharing your germs if you’re sick, but because they don’t seal around the face they only offer some protection.

Basically – they’re great, they are necessary, but they will not protect your healthcare worker from COVID-19. We are also running out of them.

Medical style N95 – These are the kinds of masks that Healthcare workers need and use. They work in two ways – first of all the material they are made of filters out 95% or more of the virus. The second way is that they are perfectly fitted – they come in various shapes and sizes – so they can create the perfect seal. A healthcare worker is regularly fitted for the kind and size of N95 respirator they need, and they are tested to see if the seal is right by spraying a very bitter smelling liquid in the air. With a perfect fit the healthcare worker cannot smell it. These were designed to be used once and tossed. The issue now is that we’re running out of them on a national level, and so we need to figure out how to prolong their life and/or be reused.

Particle mask labeled N95 – These are the kind of masks you can get at a hardware store, and are mostly used for people needing to protect themselves from dust and fumes. The material that is used is N95, the problem with these masks is that it is more difficult to get them to fit well enough to use in a medical setting – hospitals are using them right now, but they are not ideal.

What we need:

Right now there are a whole bunch of people – amateurs, professional sewers, etc, jumping in and making surgical style pleated masks – and right now in most places that is exactly what we need – the point of these is to prolong the use of the N95s.  Because they are fabric they will be able to be reused – and rewashed. This is wonderful, we need to get as many people on board making them as quickly as possible. These are being worn over the medical N95 so your healthcare worker can keep wearing/using their fitted N95 instead of having to discard per use. But here’s the issue – a normal nurse on a normal day will go through 25+ of these in one shift. To protect themselves and their patients they need to change this mask between each room (if they are visiting multiple rooms multiple patients) or between individual patients if those patients are isolated.) So we need A LOT of them. In many hospitals healthcare workers are being given one N95 to be used per shift. And in some hospitals they are already completely out of them.

So more people need to start making these surgical style masks, asap. We need them right now, in all healthcare facilities and a ton of them because the longer we don’t run out of N95s, the better. Fortunately this is a really popular cause – they are quick, easy and cheap to make. A lot of people have suitable fabric lying around at home already. There are organizations that giving away kits – supplies and instructions – for people to make them. But we need to ramp up production of them on a grassroots level immediately.

Hope & Industry Mask

That said, another thing to start focussing on RIGHT NOW is being prepared for what happens when we run out of N95s. That’s why I’m making this fitted style of mask. The seal is much better than a surgical style mask. They can be made in different sizes. Because they are fabric they will be able to be reused – and rewashed. Because of their shape and design  they are able to be tied tighter to minimize gaps. They are made with two layers of fabric – one is a very tight weave, the other is looser and a little more absorbent, with a gap in-between the layers to potentially accommodate another layer of filtration.

Caveats: But even the two layers of fabric is not perfect, doesn’t block out 95%, probably only closer to 70%. However, using two layers of the tight weave fabric makes them too difficult to breathe through, so they are necessarily not as protective. These not meant to cover or N95, because it is too difficult to breathe through both. However, in the case that surgical masks are available and N95s are not, they can be worn over a surgical mask to create a tighter seal and protect it for reuse.

Additional issues: they’re more complicate to make, they need more specific fabric, they need to be made in different sizes, etc. But we need as many people as possible to start making these immediately so we can be ready for the inevitable. We might not need them right now – what they are meant for is to meet future needs, and the more we can be prepared for that moment, the better. So the thing to do, right now, is start making and dispersing these masks to the people who need them.