The N95 mask
N95 mask is the Cadillac of protective mask for the medical worker. It is made from a synthetic non-woven pressed material that filter block the passage of particles larger than 2.5 microns. It stops droplets that contain virus from entering the wearer’s mouth and nose. This material is known as spun bond fabric.
During times of crisis, alternative masks will be used. Surgical style masks may help limit droplets from entering the air and landing on surfaces when infected patients cough. Though not as effective as the N95 certified masks, any material that limits exposure to droplets will reduce infections.
Mask the infected
Everyone in an ER or waiting room should wear a protective mask as a measure of containment. If an infected person coughs, a simple woven surgical mask can trap virus laden droplets and help limit infection.
Masks serve two purposes: they trap droplets coughed or sneezed by the infected, and they trap droplets in the air to stop them from uninfected infecting the person wearing the mask.
China and India make most virus blocking fabrics
One of the problems the US faces in the COVID-19 crisis is that our supply chain for manufacturing virus blocking masks is heavily reliant on China and India. The US doesn’t have a shortage of manufacturing capacity to produce the masks, but the pressed non-woven material is sourced primarily from India and China. India has banned the export of N95 masks to preserve them for their own people. China may also limit shipments of raw material for US manufacturers like 3M.
This exposes a very risky element of our global economy, where seemingly banal elements of supply chain problems suddenly become critical to surviving a pandemic.
We need locally sourced materials
The long game is to source more materials in country, not only for the US but other nations as well. During times of crisis, locally sourced manufacturing is essential.
The short game is getting enough masks to protect medical workers from infectious disease.
While VP Pence asks producers of masks, protective gear, retrovirals, and other essential medical resources, the persistent challenge is material supply chain.
This is where we need help.