As we all know, N-95 masks are in extremely short supply. The FDA has changed their rules to permit construction industry N-95 masks to be used for the protection of medical personnel exposed to patients with possible Coronavirus. Most of these masks were made in China, and now U.S. industry is struggling to make up the shortfall. For the foreseeable future, it’s going to be nearly impossible for non-medical civilians to purchase N-95 masks capable of filtering out airborne Coronavirus that is floating along on exhaled vapor molecules. The latest information is that these particles can remain airborne and infectious for up to three hours.

As of March 11, the FDA is not recommending N-95 masks for the general public, but I believe that this is more a matter of them being in short supply than somehow being ineffective when used by civilians. At the same time the FDA is telling civilians not to wear N-95 masks, they are engaged in a desperate struggle to provide as many of them as possible for medical personnel.

Here is a link to the FDA’s website regarding masks:

N-95 Respirators and Surgical Masks (Face Masks)

As the Coronavirus pandemic spreads, you might want to be able to provide effective masks for yourself and your family. There are many tutorials on YouTube showing how to make masks from cloth using a sewing machine. But what if you don’t have a sewing machine handy, or you want a mask that is more effective at filtration than can be achieved with ordinary cloth or paper towels?

Here is a way to make an effective mask using common household materials in just a few minutes. You will need a wire coat hanger or similar pliable wire, tape, rubber bands and a paperclip to construct a mask frame that conforms very well to your face. Then you can use any type of cloth or paper that you have available that will work as the filter. In a pinch, several paper towels are a lot better than just breathing in an invisible droplet of spit and Coronavirus recently coughed out by a passerby.

But much better results can be achieved by using HEPA (High Efficiency Particulate Air) cloth as the filter to be used in combination with your D.I.Y. wire mask frame. HEPA cloth filters air down to the micron level, giving protection nearly at the level of a purpose-built medical- or construction-grade N-95 mask. While N-95 masks are nearly impossible to find today, you can still find HEPA cloth in many other common products such as vacuum cleaner bags and HVAC filters.

Here’s how to make a DIY mask. You’ll need about 18 inches (45cm) of pliable wire. An old wire coat hanger is what I used. Bend it into an egg shape, the pointy top will go over your nose. Overlap the wire at the bottom below your chin until it’s the right size. Tape the wire together where it overlaps. Keep bending the wire until it conforms to your face. You’ll need to do a bit of trial and error bending until you get it just right. Loop rubber bands over the wire on each side. I only had small rubber bands, so I needed two for each side. A bent paperclip hooks the bands together in the back.

For your filter, lay out your best cloth or paper media (HEPA cloth if you can get it) and place your wire frame on top. Allow about an extra inch all around. Put the cut cloth or paper over the wire frame, put the frame on your face, and fasten the rubber bands in the back. You may find the best and most comfortable results by pushing the filter cloth away from your mouth and nose a bit. That’s it. If you are using HEPA cloth, you have excellent protection. Buy some suitable HEPA-cloth vacuum cleaner bags or HVAC filters before they are also in short supply. Maybe you don’t want to wear a mask today, but how about in a week or two? Like the Boy Scouts say: Be Prepared.

(But any tightly-woven cloth or paper towels used as a filter will be better than simply breathing in an invisible airborne blob of spit and Coronavirus on your next visit to the post office or supermarket. Even the government is currently advising medical personnel who can’t find proper masks that a scarf or bandana is better than nothing.)

There are also a lot of hacks and suggestions on YouTube for increasing the filtration effectiveness of cloth or paper towels, but they are beyond the scope of today’s lesson. I encourage you to seek them out.


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