Apparel manufacturers are getting involved, for example, Cut Form LLC in Garland, Texas is now producing protective shields for employees of the UT-Southwestern system. A University of Florida professor of anesthesiology demonstrated that an improvised mask could be made from the wrapping utilized in the sterilization of hospital surgical instrumentation (tens of thousands of which are disposed every day). Countless others are putting their sewing skills to use manufacturing masks on their kitchen tables.
Several individuals and organizations have proposed utilizing air conditioning filters for masks. This is also a great idea as, as of yet, people have not made runs on these and, ostensibly, there is a surplus of these regularly-used items. What I like about this creative use of an everyday object is that it just might be one of the better options in terms of wearer safety. Many, if not most air conditioning filters, are large enough to cut and render at least 8-12 masks (depending on filter size of course). Also, they tend to have a fine mesh wiring for structure and stability and this permits both flexibility and hold when used in the construction of a face mask. Ideally, one would cut the filter in an adequate size (a common surgical mask size is 4.5” x 7.2”) and then stitch this inside of a cloth pocket with ties (ties over elastic ear loops for greater control over the fit and seal). A stiffer, yet still flexible piece of wire could be placed at the top and bottom of the mask permitting for a customized fit and further improvement upon the seal.
If such filters are utilized, it must be understood that not all filters are created equal. The higher the filtration rate, the better. For example, MERV-rated (Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value) 13-16 are often utilized in healthcare settings such as the surgical suite. I typically utilize an 11-13 in our home, depending on season. In a home, the higher rating isn’t always better in that the higher the filtration parameters the more strain placed on the air conditioning system rendering it less efficient. For the home, balance is important. In the case of coronavirus, the higher filtration rating would be the preferred.
HEPA filters such as those commonly found in home air purifiers might also be utilized and, arguably, would be more effective, however, these tend to be smaller, more costly, and more rigid.
Some caveats must be made. Firstly, MERV filters (even the highest rated) will mostly likely not capture the coronavirus completely (especially if utilized as discussed above). The benefit is that such filters will catch the carrier droplets and substantially minimize the exposure (i.e., viral load, the extent of which is associated with severity of illness). Secondly, use of PPE of any type, particularly improvised PPE, is no guarantee of not catching the virus. Countless healthcare providers have become ill with COVID-19 despite the appropriate use of PPE. Lastly, a disclaimer of sorts—I am not advocating the above (or any other improvised PPE solutions in place of legitimate PPE from authorized vendors). And makers/users assume all risks associated with improvised PPE. When effective, OEM PPE is available, use it!
But, as you all know, we find ourselves in unprecedented times. In regular times, the successful individuals and businesses are those who identify problems and create innovative solutions. Now is the time for us all, as we face many problems resultant from the coronavirus, to put on our thinking caps and use our innate creativity to overcome this challenge and change the world.
Feel free to share your ideas and suggestions in the comments below.