Like everybody else, I’ve been somewhat obsessed with the Coronavirus. I can still carry on my normal activities and am not sure how many cases there are in my state or county right now. However, I did take Bacteriology and Public Health from Dr. Drake. I know how diseases spread. I know how they can change the course of history. I’ve even mentioned the role of disease in society in my M’TK Sewer Rat novels. I’m more than paying attention. Not long ago, I decided I won’t condemn those who hoard TP or food because the same forces that drive others to hoard material things have driven me to hoard information, in addition to a few material things like fabric, garden supplies and floral design products.
In my search for information, I’ve made a few observations along the way. First, in those places like Tiawan that have handled this virus better than the US, they encourage people to wear face masks. In the US, we’re not wearing them because we don’t have enough, so the wearing of face masks has been downplayed. Experts admit that a face mask will help prevent the spread of disease by preventing people from touching their faces. It will also contain disease-carrying droplets from those who are infected. Here, the caution is to isolate and leave the masks for medical professionals.
The idea to isolate sounds good, but my pets decided to stress-binge and ate six-weeks of food in about three. We’ve had to go out for pet food. My preparation for this type of disaster wasn’t all that good. We’ve run out of a few items and had to go to the store. As someone with asthma and allergies, I seem to cough constantly anyway. People scowl at me if I cough where they can hear me.
I’ve been okay, but another factor disturbs me about going out. Other people are fecking idiots. People don’t cover their coughs. They pick their noses. They are not staying home. Some people deny the problem or think they are invincible. They cough and sneeze on everything. They will go everywhere. Finally, some people are deliberate disease vectors. They possess an aggressive arrogance, even going so far as to spit on other people just out of defiance of the advice to stay home. Members of this last group have forced some businesses in my community to close because they can’t keep their establishment safe from those who will spit, cough and sneeze on others just to torment those who want to be safe and sanitary.
Okay, so we have disease vectors and also the need to go out. What do we do? I immediately started using my wonderful homemade hand sanitizer with alcohol and aloe to protect me while I’m out. When I get to where I can wash, I sing the ABC song while washing with soap. Still, looking the local situation over, I decided the face masks are probably a good idea. We have a shortage of face masks, so buying them isn’t socially responsible. Now is the hour for my fabric hoard to shine. Yes. This is the moment I’ve been saving all that beautiful fabric for.
Next question: What is the best design? The answer to this question turned into a massive internet search. The short answer was to use two layers of cotton fabric. You saw this type of mask used in the TV series Mash. It used to be the standard. It is adequate for most things. A study done on homemade masks at Cambridge University (Davies 2014) indicated that two layers of cotton like that used in tea towels were better than nothing. I have lots of cotton fabric and some would be better than the tea-towel fabric used in the Cambridge study. I really wanted something better—something superior to better-than-nothing.
Cotton fabric masks were used for years until the spun-polypropylene masks appeared in the mass market. The newer technology is designed to filter out viruses—yes. A study targeting flu viruses in a hospital in Vietnam (MacIntyre) indicated that not only was the polypropylene mask better at catching viruses, the cotton mask when damp from long usage could promote the spread of a virus.
I started looking for sources of spun-polypropylene. I found a huge roll of spun-polyethylene in the garage. I went back to the computer. Polyethylene and polypropylene are both spin-able plastic fabrics. They are almost identical with a few molecules of oxygen and differences in bonding separating them chemically. They have slightly different properties in how they hold water and how strong they are. Polyethylene is used in making Kevlar—the stuff the military uses to stop bullets. I use both polyethylene and polypropylene in my garden. I have rolls of the stuff. So how was I going to design my face mask? The Cambridge study tells me I can get a mask that will stop fifty percent of the viruses I encounter by using two layers of cotton fabric. (Davies 2013) Now, if I add some polypropylene I can filter out more viruses. I wonder if a little bit of polyethylene will change the properties of how wet the cotton mask will get if worn for more than an hour? Will it work to reduce the velocity of a cough or sneeze? How many layers, of the products I have available, will I need?
I am now at the stage of needing to test. Testing would involve, wearing a product to see how comfortable it is. If I want to get real scientific, I can get some colored water and a pressurized sprayer and see how much color gets through my mask. Colored water droplets are bigger than a virus, but the virus is carried on water droplets. The water droplets are what the polypropylene is supposed to filter out.
I might just make my masks comfortable and add a few layers of the poly plastic fabrics and call this good for community use. My goal is to give these things away for free.
I’ve sourced all my materials locally. The cotton is from the hoard in the sewing room cupboard. The poly fabrics are from the garden supply shelf in the garage. The moldable plastic for fitting around the nose is from a roll of material I bought for use in floral design. It will be perfect in my masks. It’s bendable and will hold its shape but not poke or scratch. I’m ready for my prototypes.
Once the prototypes are complete I plan to ask for independent testers. On an island of scientists, I know a few people who might have fun with spray guns and my masks.
Anna Davies et al.: Testing the Efficacy of Homemade Masks Cambridge University Press May 2013. https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/disaster-medicine-and-public-health-preparedness/article/testing-the-efficacy-of-homemade-masks-would-they-protect-in-an-influenza-pandemic/0921A05A69A9419C862FA2F35F819D55
MacIntyre, Seale et al.: A cluster randomized trial of cloth masks compared with medical masks in healthcare workers https://bmjopen.bmj.com/content/5/4/e006577