Frontline healthcare workers are at risk of contracting the coronavirus due to shortage of personal protective equipment like face masks. To help address the dire situation, the chief executive nurse at the University Health System in San Antonio, Texas has developed a mask, which has a filtration rate higher than the widely used N95 masks.
Nurse Tommye Austin’s main goal is not to make money, but to help keep people safe from contracting COVID-19.
“Hearing the stories from the nurses in New York and other hot spots, it was just heartbreaking. As a nurse, we are to be advocates for people, so my primary goal was not to make money off this mask or anything. The main purpose of this mask was to keep people safe,” Austin said.
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Austin purchased AC filter material from Lowe’s and paired with other materials for her invention. She has created 600 masks for reserves in San Antonio and a further 6,500 masks are yet to be produced as well. According to reports by KSAT, there is an expected surge in coronavirus cases and hospitalization in May.
She noted: “In the event that we get a surge of COVID-19 patients in San Antonio, which is predicted to happen in May, we are making sure we have adequate and sufficient equipment for employees.”
Due to shortages, many people resorted to using handkerchiefs or bandannas in place of the approved face masks. However, after a green light from the CDC, Austin decided to create her own masks.
“Once we learned that the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] had given us the ability to create masks, rather than using a bandanna or a handkerchief, we decided to look at creating our own N95,” she stated.
Nonetheless, the new prototype developed by Austin is said to have better filtration than the coveted N95 masks although the design is a replica of the original masks.
“The mask has a filtration rate of 99.5 percent with one material and has a 97.8 percent filtration efficiency with another material we are using,” Austin said.
“So, if the N95 masks have a 95 percent filtration efficiency, that means it can eliminate at least 95 percent of the virus or bacteria trying to get through the mask.”
The masks created by Austin can be used twice if they are sanitized, according to the same protocols used to clean the N95 masks. These new masks do not store up carbon dioxide that can result in dizziness or headaches after prolonged usage.
“We have been working with the Southwest Research Institute in making sure that we just not develop something we think is a good product but something that we know is a good product by using science,” Austin said.
As a nurse whose sense of duty is to save lives, Austin said her hospital is not keeping her design to monetize it.
They are rather sharing it with other hospitals in the region to better curb the spread of the virus by donning better protective equipment. They seek to help other healthcare workers who may be struggling to “meet the demands of the growing pandemic.”