From epidemic to pandemic, the progression of COVID-19 disease has literally changed the face of humanity’s existence on planet earth. Governments across the globe may have eased on the lockdown restrictions, but those concessions come with a plethora of rules and regulations that need to be followed to contain the further spread of disease.
The primary reason for the transmission of COVID-19 by being in close contact with COVID-19 infected person, especially if they do not cover their face when coughing, sneezing or speaking, as millions of respiratory particles ejected are packed with contagious viruses that infect whatever they land on. Researchers have found that the coughing aerosols (droplets) travel as far as six meters and while sneezing as much as eight meters and stay suspended in the air for up-to 3 hours. Thus, the most ideal approach to shield oneself from getting contaminated is by maintaining social distance and wearing a face mask.
Face mask – A mandatory social etiquette imposed by government
One of the best ways to prevent COVID-19 is by avoiding being exposed to the virus. Face masks stop the spread or limit the distance of the viral respiratory particles that travel from an infected person. They help prevent the spread of infection and avert an individual from contracting any airborne infectious germs. Therefore, wearing a face mask helps to prevent the spread of COVID-19 if combined with other preventive measures such as social distancing and frequent hand washing.
Wearing face masks was already a common practice in many Asian countries, that came into full effect during the 2003 SARS outbreak and this practice proved to be quite effective in slowing down the spread of airborne diseases in these countries. As of May 2020, in an attempt to slow down the spread of the novel coronavirus, 75+ countries worldwide have made it mandatory for people to cover their faces when they leave home.
Different types of masks and how they are made:
There are various ranges of face masks available from hospital-grade surgical masks and N95 to homemade face masks.
Surgical masks: It is a flat, rectangular, disposable mask that fits loosely rather than securing a tight grip around the face and it doesn’t provide absolute and complete protection. However, if worn properly, it can block large-particle droplets that may contain infectious virus particles and prevent them from reaching infection prone body parts.
As per the information provided in the Journal of Academia and Industrial Research, most of the surgical face masks are made of non-woven fabric using SMS (Spunbond Meltblown Spunbond) technology. It is generally made of three or four layers, often with two filters that filter any particle of size 1 µ. The typical material used to manufacture surgical face masks are polypropylene with 20 gsm made using spunbond technology and 25 gsm polypropylene non-woven sheet made using melt-blown technology. Apart from Polypropylene, materials like polystyrene, polycarbonate, polyethylene, polyester, etc. are also suitable for manufacturing surgical face masks. The surgical face masks are made in different sizes like 17.5 X 9.5 cm for adults, 14.5 X 9.5 cm for child use, and 12 X 7 cm for infants.
N95 masks: This mask is said to offer more protection as compared to a surgical mask because it can filter out both large and small particles minimum size of .3 microns. The name comes from its material’s ability to filter out 95% of aerosol particles. It is also fitted to form a seal around the nose and mouth to prevent any leakage.
A medical N95 respirator comprises numerous layers of nonwoven texture, frequently produced using polypropylene. The two outward defensive layers of fabric, covering inside and outside of the mask, are made using spunbonding. Fibers are then bonded using thermal, mechanical, or chemical procedures. Between the spun bond layers there’s a pre-filtration layer, as thick as 250 g/m2 and stiffer, ideal to frame a desired shape and remain in that shape as the mask is utilized. The last layer determines the filtration efficiency, which is a high-efficiency melt-blown electret (or polarized) nonwoven material which is less than a micron wide. The full respirators are further made by the machine, which joins the layers through ultrasonic welding and adds straps and metal strips to adjust the mask over the user’s nose.
Cloth masks: CDC recommends wearing cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain, like, grocery stores and pharmacies and keeping surgical masks and N95 respirators reserved for healthcare workers and other medical first responders. Experts suggest that a combination of two materials could do even more to protect you from spreading or getting the coronavirus. A mask made from a layer of high-thread-count cotton plus two layers of other chiffon or silk performs nearly as well as an N95 mask at blocking the smallest particles. Cloth masks are affordable and simple to make. One can find instructions online easily. Aim is to prevent community level spread. Make sure to launder the cloth face mask after every use.
Textile industry helping to fight against the pandemic:
The Covid-19 pandemic has cut the textile and fashion industry into odds and ends. With face masks becoming an inseparable accessory in this battle, the textile industry is creating a unique spot for itself in the worldwide protective gear industry.
Earlier in the US, hospitals used around 6000 face masks in a year, this number doesn’t apply in this pandemic. N95 and surgical masks are the key armor for health care workers in this battle and should be worn maximum of 8 hours only and need to be replaced regularly. With the increasing number of cases each day, it has become very important to ramp up the production of these masks for the front line workers and patients as well.
UNICEF forecasts that for the remainder of 2020, 2.2 billion surgical masks, 1.1 billion gloves, 13 million goggles and 8.8 million face shields will be needed to combat the disease.
Merely a month ago, availability of face masks was a troubling question to be answered worldwide due to the lack of preparation and disturbed supply chain. Luckily, a range of suppliers from all across the globe have stepped in and are helping to curb this crisis.
Many textile giants worldwide have started to address the demand of the newest essential; face masks. An increasing number of consumer apparel and accessory manufacturers around the world are switching gears to make face masks to help with the PPE shortage. For example: Sri Lankan apparel manufacturer Brandix has exported the first consignment of 200 million face masks to the US.
Gerber Technology has helped more than 1200 manufacturers worldwide to convert their manufacturing infrastructure and improve technological capabilities in line with PPE production. Vidalia Mills, the leading North American maker of yarns and denim fabrics, has teamed up with Keep It Here, a major Los Angeles based manufacturer of T-shirts, jeans and other clothing in a new joint venture to manufacture and distribute surgical masks, gowns and face masks to help medical personnel battle against the pandemic. Apparel manufacturing giant Crystal International Group has distributed more than 180,000 material units and medical masks from its knit, intimate and denim factories in Vietnam, China and Cambodia.
In India, entrepreneurs from Tirupur have imported 200 machines that can manufacture 40,000 PPEs in a day. Sourcing of the raw materials to produce face masks is another challenge in the country. To facilitate domestic manufacture of the PPE gears to fight the pandemic in India, the revenue authority has exempted all forms of tariffs and taxes on import of raw materials of personal protective equipment (PPE) and face masks. Worldwide suppliers of raw materials such as polypropylene, has been helping to ease the crisis.
Currently, the online distribution channel is the leading among the other distribution channels which is bridging the gap between buyer and supplier worldwide.
You can do your bit in the fight against COVID-19.
Check out the tutorial video to understand the process involved in making cloth masks:
Certifications needed to manufacture protective gear:
India with an ambitious dream to be self-reliant has been working hard to suffice the need of its frontline workers in the country. This dream has been achieved in less than a span of three months, India has become the world’s second largest PPE kit producing country by producing more than 450,000 PPE gear daily. Making such kits requires permits and following certifications are recommended for Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) Kit including face mask:
1) CE Marking (86/686/EEC & 89/686/EEC Category)
2) ISO 16603 Class 3
3) ISO 22609
4) SITRA Certification
5) DRDE Certification
To speed up the production of N95 face masks, the government of India, has relaxed norms of manufacturing and has allowed companies with valid licenses to use outside facilities to produce face masks.
The government has also relaxed the export of masks by permitting outbound shipments of non-medical and non-surgical masks of all types, including cotton, silk, wool and knitted and is expecting an export of $1 billion units within the next three months. However, the export of surgical masks and N95 is still prohibited.
Face masks are a must-have accoutrement in this fight against COVID-19. Demand has skyrocketed and entrepreneurs and businesses are attempting to leverage the situation with increased production. The pandemic has taught us several valuable lessons and has brought changes in lifestyles globally. Wearing face masks to protect self and others around is one of them. Lastly, remember, together, we have the power to flatten the curve, and we will….!