We are learning more and more about coronavirus everyday, and all that is going to make us safer in the long run, against this disease and the next possible diseases. We are learning about what tools are most useful, which strategies can be taken at every level of responsibility, and how best to utilize the resources we have to protect as many people as possible. However, we should take a moment to take a look at the tools that we have prepared for the eventualities that we are now facing. Take the n95 masks for example. When the crisis started, there was a great shortage of all supplies, n95 masks included in that list. We did not have enough to go around, so that all the medical professionals that needed them would have them readily available. That is when American manufacturers took a stand, and started their own companies. It took a little while, with regulations, materials, and other important matters to be taken care of, but now we can see that many of the masks we are getting are made here in the U.S.A. by hard-working American citizens, and are being sold directly to hospitals and emergency centers. How are n95 masks made though? What are the key components that make them up?
Well, the most important part of any mask is the filtration fabric that fits over the mouth, and n95 respirators are no different. A medical-grade n95 respirator is made from several layers of interwoven fabric, often polypropylene. The outlining two layers, on the front and back of the mask are made from heating and spinning a polymer to give the mask a strong barrier against the outside environment and the user’s own breath. Underneath these two layers there is a pre-filtration layer, a nonwoven piece of plastic cloth that is heated and molded into the desired shape, which for n95 masks is usually a dome. The last layer is perhaps the most important, as it is the layer which determines the efficiency of the mask to filter out germs and bacteria. This layer is made by a process called Meltblowing, in which tiny fibers, less than a micron wide are blown through multiple machine nozzles onto a conveyor. This material is superheated, creating a strong bond that will prevent anything but the smallest of particles, like air molecules, from entering through the material. While this process creates a filtration device with an intensity of 95%, the material loses some of the properties of fabric.
These three types of materials are bonded together, creating a mask that can protect yourself, your friends and family, and all those around you. The fabrics are heat-stamped so that the materials are stuck together, and a metal strip is placed over the nose. The rubber straps are installed onto the mask and there you have it. One n95 respiratory mask ready to be used. The next time you see a doctor wear an n95 mask, or use one yourself, remember to give a moment to thank all the hard workers out there who have taken it on themselves to put these masks together so that we can remain safe and Mask Up!