(Photo by Samuel Corum/Getty Images)
N-95 model face masks have been in high demand during the coronavirus pandemic, but thanks to a Black chief executive nurse at the University of Texas Health System, a new and even more efficient model is now on the horizon.
According to a local ABC affiliate, when nurse Tommye Austin saw on the news how COVID-19 was infecting communities all over the country, she made the decision to proactively create masks for her own colleagues.
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Austin joined the San Antonio hospital in May 2017, teaming up with the Southwest Research Institute to make the first 600 masks. She hopes to ultimately produce 6,500 more but unintentionally ended up crafting something quite extraordinary in the process.
When she hit up a Lowe’s Hardware store in search of AC filters, she had two priorities: make masks that could be easily mass-produced and that provided decent filtration.
“We had this AC filter material we purchased from Houston, Texas,” Austin explains. She previously helped organize the University Hospital’s response to the Sutherland Springs church shooting.
“We started creating a mask that would fit like an N-95, that would have that whole seal across the face so that if you put it on, you would have a seal similar to the current N-95 we use.”
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,” she continued.
“Once we learned that the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] had given us the ability to create masks, rather than using a bandana or a handkerchief, we decided to look at creating our own N-95.”
But when they tested their design, they were stunned to find out the new masks’ filtration rates were at a stunning 99.5 percent with one material and 97.8 percent filtration with another. Both were more efficient than the current model which eliminates 95 percent of the virus or bacteria that tries to get through.
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“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,” she said. “It doesn’t have what we call carbon dioxide buildup, which could make you dizzy or [give you] a headache. It is comfortable, and you can wear it for long periods of time.”
“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.
She and her colleagues now plan to share their design with other facilities interested in creating an in-house supply of their own.