Developing home-disinfection and filtration efficiency improvement methods for N95 respirators and surgical facial masks: stretching supplies and better protection during the ongoing COVID-19 Pandemic
Roland Yan, Steve Chilrud, Debra Magadini, Beizhan Yan
The U.S. CDC announced on 04/03/2020 that all citizens should wear face coverings when in public, potentially increasing demand for medical face masks from the public and exacerbating mask shortages for Covid-19 response staff. One solution is reuse after disinfection for the general public. Prior studies have shown that heating for 30 mins at 70°C or above effectively kills SARS, including SARS-CoV-2, and Influenza viruses on masks. Black carbon (BC) particles generated from a kerosene-lamp were used as a proxy for Coronavirus aerosols to test mask performance after disinfection given overlapping size distributions. We determined filtration efficiency (FE) measurements by comparing BC values on both sides of the respirators or masks (Moldex N95 and 3M N95 respirators, HSI surgical masks) placed under vacuum on mannequins. To obtain the maximum FE, each mask type was first measured while taped or modified to tightly fit a mannequin’s face when new and after each heating cycle. No reduction in average FE was observed even after 10 disinfection cycles, with FE statistically greater than 95% for N95 respirators and 70% for surgical masks. In sharp contrast, the FE of all medical masks with no additional sealing decreased to ~ 40%, confirming the effectiveness of facial masks relies upon a tight fit. For solving this issue, we designed a method for making individualized custom nose clips to hold a mask tightly to face; FE of 3M N95 respirators and surgical masks remained above 95% and 80%, respectively. Surprisingly, the FE of three homemade thick cloth coverings (in normal use) were 55%. Though more work is still needed, this result supports the public announcements that the public could wear cloth coverings instead of N95 respirators or surgical masks in low-risk environments. When worn with a customized nose clip, N95 respirators and surgical masks have higher FE than the CDC design for cloth coverings.