Tag Archives: Masks

What if Your Mask Could Test You for COVID?

Harvard researchers have invented a mask that can test the wearer for COVID:

Researchers at Harvard University’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering have figured out how to integrate a freeze-dried diagnostic Covid-19 test into a face mask. The test reacts with exhaled particles and gives a diagnosis in 90 minutes or less.

The tests and a tiny blister pack of water can be mounted on any mask. After the mask has been worn for at least 30 minutes, a person punctures the blister pack to release the water needed to rehydrate and run the reactions. The test result is indicated by one or two lines, similar to a pregnancy test

The masks will be affordable and could be useful for a lot more than COVID:

The Wyss team…expects the product to cost about $5. The technology can be targeted to identify other viruses and variants as well.

Any such masks would be subject to FDA approval. Another team at University of California, San Diego is working on a sticker that could be stuck to any mask to test the wearer. Those stickers could cost mere cents.

Incredible ingenuity!

For more on COVID, check out these posts:

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Photo: “Fit testing the N95 Mask” by AlamosaCountyPublicHealth is licensed under CC BY 2.0


Why a Cloth Mask Isn’t Enough…Plus the Lowest Price I’ve Ever Seen on FDA Approved KN95’s

Above: Me, an FDA Approved KN95, and a snowman.

I am starting to see more and more people on the street wearing N95, KN95 and surgical masks, rather than cloth ones. That makes me really happy, because I know they’re a lot more effective. With a more contagious COVID variant from the UK spreading here, we need all the protection we can get. And with that in mind, I did a little Googling last night.

The eminent Dr. Eric Topol encourages us to use better masks, like N95/KN95, to confront the new UK variant of COVID.

My supply of KN95 masks, which filter much better than a cloth mask (and likely much better than most surgical ones also), was running low. I found an incredible deal on an FDA approved KN95 mask by Powecom at, of all places, Office Depot!

I ordered 100 last night and they should be here by Friday, with free shipping. $1/each is unheardof. The lowest I’ve paid before is about $1.35. I was very pleased!

You can see that these masks are FDA approved by going here. Go to Appendix A: Authorized Imported, Non-NIOSH Approved Respirators Manufactured in China (Updated: October 15, 2020). Then, see the manufacturer name, Guangzhou Powecom Labor Insurance Supplies Co. LTD, in the list.

Happy hunting! I suggest ordering a larger quantity because this price is unusual.

I Just Bought These FDA Approved Surgical Masks for My Family

I just bought these high quality surgical masks from Taiwan.

I’ve heard scary stuff about poorly made masks that don’t do a good job protecting people. I’ve worn these KN95 masks for some time (also FDA approved) and found them very comfortable, but I think masks are like clothing: they fit different people differently.

Some in my family prefer the surgical style masks (the mostly blue disposable ones you see frequently). So last night, I made it my mission to find a high quality, FDA approved surgical mask.

I found out that a good surgical mask should be ASTM-rated. This is an international standard of how the mask performs:

  • Level 1: low barrier protection. General use for short procedures and exams that don’t involve aerosols, spray or fluids
  • Level 2: moderate barrier protection. For low to moderate levels of aerosols, spray and/or fluids
  • Level 3: maximum barrier protection. For heavy levels of aerosols, spray and/or fluids

Every mask I’ve ever seen in normal stores has no ASTM rating at all, which means they’re less protective. The masks I bought are ASTM Level 1.

The FDA-approved higher level masks I saw appeared to be available in very large lots designed for hospitals. Since no one in my family works in the medical field, I am thinking an ASTM Level 1 mask should suffice. If you guys know of a Level 3 mask available in smaller quantities, please leave that info in the comments.

The FDA publishes lists of approved surgical masks and respirators (like the KN95 I wear). You can see the masks I bought on that list below. If you match the model number on the FDA list to the model number on the Mocacare website, you’ll see it’s an exact match.

Consider these masks as a good alternative to a KN95 or to surgical masks that came from who-knows-where.

The New COVID Strain in the UK

A novel variant has been identified which has spread rapidly within the UK.

Public Health England

Like you, I’ve been hearing about this new strain of COVID cropping up in the UK. I did a little digging on it this morning. Here’s what I found:

  • The new mutation makes the virus easier to transmit. These are still estimates, but this strain may increase how many other people each sick person transmits to from 1.1 to 1.5 (the R-naught). That’s a very big difference.
  • The new mutation doesn’t appear to make people any sicker than any other strain of COVID.
  • Since the new mutation involves changes to the spike protein that vaccines target, it might make vaccines less effective, but we don’t really know yet. It’s more likely the vaccines would need a tweak than that the vaccines would be rendered useless.

I suggest checking out Peter Horby’s Twitter account. He’s one of the leading UK researchers in this area and has been posting some great information on this new strain of COVID.

Whatever the details, what we do remains the same: masks, distancing, wash hands. Everything we’ve done since March. We can do it!

The FDA Approved Mask I Wear

With evidence indicating that cloth masks may be less effective than surgical/N95/KN95 masks, what type of mask should we choose? And how do we know that the one we’ve chosen is safe?

I’ve been wearing these KN95 masks for several weeks and have come to love them. They only touch your face at the edges, which I find more comfortable. The earloops are thick and cushioned, providing better comfort. And as someone who wears glasses, I find that these fog my glasses less than anything else I’ve tried, provided I fit the adjustable nose piece carefully.

I’ve done yoga classes in this mask and walked all over town in it, and I actually forget I’m wearing it sometimes. I never thought that would happen. I find myself handing these out to friends and family in the hopes it will protect them as well.

This mask is on the FDA approved list. Go to Appendix A: Authorized Imported, Non-NIOSH Approved Respirators Manufactured in China (Updated: October 15, 2020). Then, see the manufacturer name, Guangzhou Nan Qi Xing Non-Woven Co., Ltd. This gives me greater peace of mind that it will work as advertised.

If you’re ready to dive in and buy a box of 50 at a lower price, the link is here.

Stay safe and stay strong everyone!

How I Think About COVID Risk: Calculate the Risk of Any Activity

There is no such thing as perfect safety. If you live in an apartment, even if you stayed home 100% of the time, viral particles could potentially make it through a faulty ventilation system. (This may have been the cause of numerous SARS infections in 2003 at a Hong Kong apartment building called Amoy Gardens Block E…see p. 137 of SARS in China: Prelude to Pandemic?).

So how do we know what is reasonably safe to do and what isn’t? Enter the microCOVID Project, a research-based calculator that can estimate the risk of contracting COVID from virtually any activity.

The calculator uses your location (and its COVID prevalence) along with other assumptions (who is near you during an activity, what mask they’re wearing, etc.) to calculate how likely you are to get COVID in a given situation. For example, going to the grocery store for 60 minutes in my area is 200 microCOVIDs. This means that if I went to the grocery for 60 minutes once a week every week for a year, I’d have a 1% cumulative chance of getting COVID from that activity.

Play around with the assumptions. For example, the grocery scenario assumes I’m wearing a cotton mask. I don’t do that. Instead, I wear a KN95 mask from the FDA approved list, which cuts the risk in half, to 100 microCOVIDs.

Is this calculator perfect? I’m sure it’s not. But it provides a useful way to estimate risk and decide if an activity is worth it to you or not. In a time when we are forced to think about risk more than usual, it is a valuable tool!