In the fight against covid-19, healthcare workers face a daily onslaught of potential infection. In order to protect themselves, they utilize personal protective equipment consisting of gowns, gloves, and the all-important masks. N95 masks proved the most reliable, until now. Tommye Austin, chief executive nurse at University Health System, developed a mask on her own that beat the filtration abilities of popular N95 masks.
Her design comes at a vital moment. Coronavirus cases in Texas continue to uptick, with 20,196 confirmed cases as of Tuesday, and 517 dead. Across the country, hospital staff caring for contagious patients struggle to keep critically important face masks in stock. With N95 supplies dwindling, many resort to crafting their own.
As a result, Austin began developing a similar design with supplied sourced from Lowe’s.
After producing them, the Southwest Research Institute conducted tests to determine their viability. What they found proved surprising.
The Southwest Research Institute’s tests discovered Nurse Tommye Austin’s masks featured filtration rates of 97.8 percent and 99.5 percent. She used two different materials, both of which out-performed the resource they seek to substitute. N95 masks have a filtration rate of 95 percent.
Now, Austin plans to produce and store 6,500 masks made with her design to bolster current supplies at her San Antonio hospital. So long as proper sanitation equipment is used, they can also be reused once, similar to the N95 model.
“Hearing the stories from the nurses in New York and other hot spots, it was just heartbreaking,” said Austin. Austin and the Southwest Research Institute have shared the design with other healthcare facilities to replicate for their own staff.
With cases ramping up, her masks will inevitably come in handy. Health experts predict a peak for the Lone Star State in the middle of May.