Editor’s Introductory Note: This is Part 1 of a three-part series. It was written by one of the most prolific contributors to SurvivalBlog. We’ve posted more than 50 of his articles and letter over the past 15 years.
You have your N-95 filter masks. Now how to you get the maximum use out of them?
They’re “disposable.” But can you safely re-use them?
Does anybody have “enough” masks?
Fluorescent powder distribution. https://bmcinfectdis.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12879-019-4109-x
So, when DO we change masks? Well… The tiny virus-containing droplets take a LONG time to actually plug up a filter mask (unlike dust or smoke). The mask will still filter for quite a while, but with virus droplets stuck to it, it’s now dangerous to put near your eyes, nose and mouth.
Thought exercise: Imagine that you’ve smeared the outside of your mask with “deadly poison dust.” Now, if you aren’t really, really careful when you’re putting it back on you’re going to get dust RIGHT in your eyes! (And that’s an already known avenue of infection.)
Yes, you could just put your (non-vented) goggles on first, and THEN the mask. But it’s still risky. And, yes, it’s true that wearing SOME mask, even a mask you’ve already worn, is theoretically better than wearing NO mask because you’ve run out of them.
The other problem is what to do with a potentially contaminated mask in between wearing it? It’s smeared with “deadly poison dust,” remember? Where do you store it? How do you keep the dust from getting disturbed and getting on the other side of the mask, the clean side?
In a perfect world you’d have a $500 pile of masks and discard them after even one wearing. That’s why we call these “disposable” masks. But if this becomes a pandemic in the US and there are sick and contagious people out and about for more than a month (easily), you won’t have enough masks to do that, while going about your ordinary routines.
What to do? What to do?…
EXTEND YOUR SUPPLY
No matter what other strategies you use, you can minimize the occasions when you need to wear a mask. If you only wear a mask once a week your supply will last seven times longer than if you wear them every day, right?
So here’s a few thoughts:
1. Purge your refrigerator (and freezer) of stuff you aren’t keen on eating. Get rid of the old squeeze bottle of mustard and the Brussels Sprouts (although, I’ve got an AWESOME Brussels Sprouts recipe!). Get rid of the soda and any water bottles you’re keeping cold.
Make up a list of the core refrigerated foods you always eat, the ones you can make several different dishes from. Go buy a bunch of those foods and pack your refrigerator and freezer (and Deep Freeze). You already have your long-term storage food on hand, and – hopefully – you don’t need more rice or beans or wheat or canned meats and peanut butter! This is in addition to that.
3. While you’re at it, buy anything important you could run out of in the next month or two. You probably don’t “need” Q-tips or hand soap, but they make life easier, so now’s the time to buy a bit extra. Now, don’t go back to the store for the next month. Just think how many sick people you will avoid and how many zillions of germs (not just COVID-19, but Influenza A and Noroviruses) you’ll avoid inhaling or touching!
4. Get your prescriptions delivered by mail. Hopefully your insurance company offers this option (and its cheaper!).
5. Use your insurance company’s tele-medicine option online (yes, not as nice as seeing your personal doctor, but you don’t have to wait in a waiting room filled with people making disgusting sounds and shedding viruses like your cat sheds hair…). Another occasion you won’t need a mask for! (You might need a webcam for your computer for telemedicine. They’re cheap. Just don’t leave it plugged in for some hacker to use to spy on you…)
6. Use WalMart’s (or Fred Meyer’s) online ordering / drive-up pick-up service – it’s free!!! WalMart’s online interface is VERY well done and VERY easy to use. And you don’t go into the store at all – they bring it out to your car and you drive off (you already paid online). Voila! Why would you not use this?
7. Do everything you CAN online or by mail. Between WalMart and Amazon, the Shepherdess and I get virtually everything we need at this point.
Wipe your newly-purchased stuff (with hard surfaces) with bleach wipes if you like, or, do what we do and line everything up on pallet slats and lightly mist them with a diluted bleach solution from a spray bottle (3 Tbs / quart, made up fresh every time). The slats keep everything separated so they get good coverage and this speeds drainage of solution drips.
Make yourself an improvised floor-length apron out of tarp and some ribbon or paracord. Now your clothes and shoes won’t get bleach mist on them!
8. Stop shaking hands and hugging people out in public. I’m trying to start a trend of doing elbow bumps!
9. Combine your errands so you can do all of them at one time. Put on your protective gear, go do 4 or 5, or more, errands, get home. Now you only used ONE mask to run multiple errands!!
10. Think long and hard about attending any meetings, going to ANY movies or restaurants or events. Even church. Hopefully your pastor will have implemented many of the measures I (and others!) suggested in connection with my previous article, “Church Pandemic Preparedness” (https://survivalblog.com/church-pandemic-preparedness-shepherdfarmergeek/#comment-202150 )
God does not “guarantee” you won’t get sick just because you’re doing something religious. Send your pastor (and other leaders as needed) a nice email (or call them) to explain. Then watch your church’s online sermon streaming. Or maybe a friend would videotape the sermon for you if your church doesn’t have the tech?
It’s completely okay to miss a few services. You skip services when you’re sick, right? What could possibly be wrong skipping services so you don’t get sick?
Download some favorite worship songs from YouTube and gather around your PC. Or copy the songs to a datakey / flash drive and use my favorite: an MP3 player! Sing together as a family!
YouTube Downloader is your friend, and it’s free: https://youtubedownloader.com/en/ My favorite MP3 player (under $20, and a dozen more like it on Amazon) has a lot of nice features (and short wave!):
Yes, (unless you’re extra high risk) you could wear a mask and goggles to church, but they’re uncomfortable, and they’re a challenge to sing with. Mostly, you’ve got to have enough courage to have everyone stare at you like some nut. But, think of yourself as a trend setter, and being a good example for the rest of them.someone has to be first!
So, even if you have a lot of filter masks, extend your supply with these simple suggestions. And now you’ve stretched your supply and you start to realize that this thing is going to last longer than your supply. What do you do?!
There ARE instructions online for people who want to try making their own masks from furnace air filters and other materials. Very painful to watch… A lot of things can go wrong with that approach, but “desperate people do desperate things.”
Moral of the story: Don’t be that desperate person. Get masks, baby them and make them last!
WAIT IT OUT
We know that for most coronaviruses the maximum amount of time they can survive on a hard surface is 9 days. We also know that viruses don’t survive as long on fabric/porous surfaces. What we don’t yet know is how long COVID, specifically, lasts on fabric surfaces like filter masks.
So this suggests a clever strategy: place each contaminated mask in a bag (so it doesn’t contaminate your house!) marked with the date, and wait it out. Nine days. After nine days, all of the viruses on your mask and in the bag should have been inactivated.
If you have nine masks you can just keep rotating them. If you wear a mask in the morning and take it off for lunch, bag it, and put on a fresh mask after lunch. When you get out to the car after work bag the second one and take them home to wait it out.
I can guarantee you that nobody has enough masks to wear two a day for the duration of this pandemic (or even one a day each, for the husband and for the wife).
After studying about this pandemic extensively, I’ve come to the conclusion that our family’s new policy will be:
“ONLY put new or sanitized masks ON.”
As I mentioned in https://survivalblog.com/letter-wuhan-virus-shepherdfarmergeek/ “Don’t spray the mask with liquids (diluted bleach comes to mind) or bake them – the mask works by having a huge network of *fuzzy fibers* to attract tiny particles as they make their way through. If the fuzzies get clumped together by being wetted (and dried) they aren’t going to work.
The masks don’t actually block viruses – they’re too small to be stopped – but viruses in the air are usually embedded in tiny saliva droplets that are large enough to stop, although some free viruses will be caught by the fibers because of an electrostatic attraction.
Bleach (sodium hypochlorite) works. It kills viruses. But hosing down your masks risks clumping up the fuzzies. I do think it’s possible to give a contaminated mask a light enough misting with diluted bleach (diluted enough to (a) spray out of your spray bottle in a very fine mist, and (b) diluted not any more than necessary so there’s not excess water there to clump up the fuzzies.
And this is all conjecture until someone does the science. But back to the principle that SOME mask, even a mask that’s now not working quite as well as it originally did, is still better than running out of masks and going without any mask at all.
And you’ll need to weigh those risks with putting a mask on your face that’s already potentially coated with “deadly poison dust,” as I referred to it earlier. I think it CAN be done, but it’s risky, and certainly riskier than just putting a nice clean mask on your face!
So a bleach mist is an option.
(To be continued tomorrow, in Part 2.)