What a crazy time we live in… The good news, there is a ton of good advice out there on avoiding COVID 19 aka Corona Virus aka the Chinese Pandemic. Unfortunately, the flip side is also true, and while one would expect that from those looking to make a quick buck or just don’t know any better the biggest problem is much of the bad / misguided advice comes from sources one would consider trustworthy / knowledgeable. With that we decided to cut through some of the noise and hopefully you be prepared better for whatever is the “new normal” is and help protect yourself not only now but later.
Is it a Dust Mask or a Respirator?:
In the US, items B (disposable) & C (half / partial face) are considered “respirators” as long as they are tested / approved by NIOSH (42CFR84). The nuisance dust mask (A) or other items like surgical masks, bandanas, etc… are not tested or certified to protect you. While other countries might have there own certifications, only NIOSH ones are *approved for use per OSHA, the FDA… For More: Safety Sunday: Dust Masks vs. Respirators *see Non NIOSH allowed?
What is a KN95?
For anyone looking to find N95 masks now (good luck) you might have all of sudden started seeing something called a KN95 mask. Is this just some new marketing gimmick; as most have a carbon filter in it, don’t list being certified, or… The answer is no, it is not a marketing gimmick but rather a Chinese “certified” version.
Non NIOSH Respirators Allowed?
Only NIOSH certified respirators (aka masks) are allowed to be sold and used in the US. With that, effective March 28th per the FDA certain versions of the FFP2 (Europe EN 149-2001), P2 (Australia/New Zealand AS/NZA 1716:2012), Korea 1st class (Korea KMOEL – 2017-64), & DS (Japan JMHLW-Notification 214, 2018) were allowed to be sold & used by healthcare workers only under an emergency exemption. For more on the differences – 3M has a comparison piece on the standards. (Full Disclosure: Many 3M respirator products are made in China & not NIOSH certified)
But wait, how about the KN95 (China GB2626-2006)? Nope, because there was a lot of concern about quality control, knockoffs, etc… but they finally relented and approval did come April 3rd but with a lot of caveats. First they had to agree to the terms, get approved, and then be listed in Appendix A.
Just a few takeaways from the emergency exemption:
- The above-described authorized respirators listed in Appendix A, when labeled as described in this letter, are authorized to be distributed to and used in healthcare settings by HCPs (ONLY)
- No descriptive printed matter relating to the use of the authorized respirators in the United States may represent or suggest that the product is safe or effective for the prevention of COVID-19.
- Oh & this exemption does end so don’t over order to stockpile them even if you are in healthcare
But I need the N95 to work?
In most locations the construction industry is listed as an essential service & even if commercial/residential building isn’t in your area (Pennsylvania specifically says no, New York & a few others don’t list it as essential) – repair technicians, pipe fitters, electricians, insurance mitigation companies, etc… still are. So what happens if you need a N95 and you are running out?
If the issue is dust or others particulates – consider using capture systems, wet saws, increasing ventilation to the areas…
Still need a mask, definitely consider upgrading from the disposable mask to a half / partial face respirator with changeable filters. Most healthcare facilities don’t use these so you should still be able to find some. The other option is to upgrade to P100 or better (does the same as the other but also filters out gasses). Just remember you can always use a higher grade filter but you can’t use an unapproved filter. Just don’t forget to follow all the necessary maintenance & care steps plus read the next section.
You the Respirator / Mask vs. Viruses:
Wait, why isn’t the healthcare industry using a product that only is designed for 95% capture as compared to the P100 which is 100% effective? Well that is due to the tested micron size & the actual virus size – the 95 works just as well as the more expensive option. Heh, & just imagine the shortage if it didn’t as the government stockpiles were all N95… But why are all these healthcare workers getting it? Besides “other” errors the biggest is improperly handling the mask. With that said here are tips to help prevent you catching the virus from the respirator that did what it could to protect you.
- A respirator is only meant to filter air coming in if it fits properly (see fit testing & testing from manufacturer)
- Besides washing your hands you should also wash your face – if the virus can land on the respirator or it is on your hands, it lands / can be spread elsewhere also
- Shave off all beards or you will not have a proper air seal, plus you have an area for the virus to wait for it’s opportunity
- Sliding the respirator up or down your face – DON’T DO IT
- We have all seen the movies or shows, doctor comes out & slides the mask down to talk to the family…
- While on a ride today we were about to pass some people walking towards us with masks on & I watched the one slide it up from below her nose to cover it.
- Working in the trades, we would slide it up to our forehead, drop the top band to swing down, etc…
- Guess what happens if in all these cases – any virus on the mask, face, etc… is now sitting on or in your breathing area when you slide it back in place
- Use all the straps to ensure it stays in place properly – generally biggest issue I see is with this is disposable versions that have two straps, yes they are more uncomfortable but fit better than the single strap versions.
- For non-disposable units – Make sure as mentioned above that you clean it properly EVERY TIME you take it off & put it back on plus store the filters & unit as mentioned
- When taking off any version only touch the straps not the respirator itself pulling it away from you – many say with fresh gloves on but I would defer to your best judgement based on where you work.
- Do not reuse a disposable one – basically an average individual in healthcare or other essential service which is constantly seeing customers will need at least 4 a day. Start of shift, Break Time, Lunch, & Break Time. If you smoke or need a glass of water in between these times, well the number goes up for every time you sneak out for one. Once you put it on, it stays on & isn’t touched until you take it off (See 3rd item above)
Cloth / Surgical / Bandannas a real option?
I hate to break most peoples bubble; but wearing / using these masks is designed more to help you prevent giving something to others, not preventing you from catching COVID. Can it help prevent you from catching it – YES – BUT you need to use your head and follow the steps above. The mask or even a respirator doesn’t make you bulletproof, it is just to help you hopefully avoid catching it.
Wait I need 4 or more of the above per day?
If you truly want to try to avoid catching it, yes you need quite a few of the above. If you are sheltering in place and just want to wear one going to the store or out for a walk – well as long as you don’t touch or take it off while you are out, you are good to go with just one (unless you grab a bite to eat or drink while out). You just need to clean it afterwords. For those “essential” service individuals, yes you need at least 4 / more if you also want to stop by a store or elsewhere on the way home.
Cleaning disposable N95, or other masks:
For disposable N95 masks or respirator cartridges they should not be cleaned but some healthcare locations started running short so the CDC did come up with some guidelines. While most of those options aren’t doable unless you work in a hospital or other type of facility, a few are. One of the easiest ones I see is the microwave steam version, especially utilizing sterilization bags used for baby bottles. Just make sure once done sterilizing you dry it so you don’t bread bacteria or anything else.
- Dishwasher – got a sanitary setting, that should work for cloth masks as steam (internal heater) & high heat are used – just make sure you run this cycle separate from the dishes or wait till the last hour or so before adding. Not sure how “other” read HVAC filters will handle this.
- Clothes Washer – some machines have sanitary settings which should theoretically be the best option but truth be told unless you are hooked up directly to a water heater putting out a 140° you won’t ever come close to “sanitary” – your best is run your machine like regular & dry on high heat.
- Got dirty clothes that may also be affected – the general consensus is wash & dry at as high as a heat as your clothes allow for. Many also staying away from clothes lines.
- With that based on reality (i.e. how long it takes hot water to get to most units, how quickly the lines cool) I don’t see an issue with just running just cold water especially with an enzyme based detergent.
- Run dryer on highest heat setting or use a clothes line – reality says both work well. Yep the nice thing about drying in the sun is this thing called UV light which does a number on viruses…
How about adding in XYZ filters?
Talk about crazy town with people trying almost everything – Sweet look I created a cloth filter and added in a piece off my MERV 13 or better filter (other filters won’t filter out virus)… I created a full mask using a 2 liter bottle (full face respirator) & attached a filter from my motorcycle… Yeah there is a ton of ideas out there & you know they can work (and for some turn a few heads) but with that see the sections above & use your head. Be careful of using a piece of HVAC filter with a cloth mask, because who knows how it will react to being cleaned (or just replace it each time you clean the mask)
Should I upgrade my HVAC filter?
Speaking of HVAC filters, should I upgrade my unit to a MERV13 filter… Um yeah, no – at least not for this reason. Why you have to think of how long the virus can actually stay in the air and how often and long your system runs. Basically unless someone sneezes next to the Return vent while the unit is running you won’t be spreading it through your house.
Speaking of HVAC related items:
UV light – waste of money for most houses for many of the reasons listed above, especially, as killing it requires almost direct contact when the unit is running. If you really want a UV light best bet is to install it in an ERV or HRV that is continuously running though the damage that could be done to any gaskets or filters would probably negate any practical benefit 9lower flow & always running). Nice Explainer about UV lights via @EnergyVanguard
Duct Cleaning – another waste of money as discussed previously. Any Corona Virus that might have gotten into the system is long since dead. Shoot even if it was still active, all you would be doing is essentially setting it free into the air stream.
Humidify the Air – I about died laughing when I saw the “humidity” level chart pop up with desired ranges for various items like bacteria, viruses of course & many said we should raise humidity levels to fight it. Yeah, only if it is in the air – for most of us it isn’t in our homes and the hypothetical good can do more damage than being smart about it. Just like anything else, if you need to raise humidity levels in a space, humidify that space not the whole place.
Your best bet – same as it was for the Spanish Flu, open up the drapes & the windows – let the light & fresh air in. Good news with so little traffic the outside air just might be a little fresher. Interesting tid bit for you – know why radiators & now most HVAC supplies are located by the windows? Well it’s not for the most though of reason – windows are colder but for the reason listed above, the Spanish Flu. The best advice was to leave the windows open & run the heat.
Speaking of outdoors / avoid the hysteria:
Get outside, go for a hike or better yet hop on your bike and enjoy the open roads. Yeah but what about social distancing? Well one can easily maintain that in most areas. Granted I am assuming your moron of a mayor / governor/ bureaucrat didn’t close off parks, pathways, etc… If they did it can be a lot harder for those in metro areas but still doable and is one of the best methods to help you keep your good health.
Yeah, but shouldn’t it be further the faster you ride or jog or… Look unless you are running or biking with someone in your own house you don’t want to be side by side but being six feet apart / behind is more than fine especially when biking due to the way air & fluids move. Yes there is a reason it is called drafting. Besides for most people feeling under the weather, they probably aren’t going to be out in pacelines, jogging or running. With that, stay safe and if in doubt don’t stop enjoying the outdoors – get past them & go.