The N95 respirator could be quintessential to saving our kids and family during this COVID-19 pandemic. It is only wise to look into the history of the N95 respirator and discover to whom we owe this tool that now saves hundreds of thousands of lives.
The N95 respirator used by medical and dental professionals in the United States today is the brainchild of Taiwanese American scientist Peter Tsai. If you search “who invented the N95 respirator” used in the US today, Peter Tsai is the name that stands out.
The N95 Respirator: How It Works
In the early 90s, Peter Tsai led a research team to develop the N95 respirator filter. They made use of a filtration system that utilizes the corona electrostatic charging method.
The filtration method uses positive and negative charge charges to attract airborne particles. These include dust, bacteria, and viruses trapping them by polarization. The N95 respirator is said to be 95 percent efficient in filtering out hazardous particles found in the air as these pass through the mask.
The electrostatically-charged N95 respirator filter is what is used now to help ward out the COVID-19 virus from entering the system of the wearer. Doctors and nurses are top-priority for the supply of the N95 respirator. Still, the rise of COVID-19 cases paved the way for the N95 respirator used today.
N95 Respirator vs Surgical Mask
On an important note, surgical masks greatly vary from N95 respirators. The reason being, surgical masks were only made to prevent physicians from sneezing or coughing on the open wounds of their parents during surgery.
In comparison, N95 respirators used today are made with an airtight seal that filters inhalation—protecting not just patients but also the wearer. A healthcare professional exposed to symptomatic and asymptomatic COVID-19 patients should use NIOSH-approved PPE disposable face masks. The N95 respirator is seen to be the superior choice for COVID-19 protection.
Today’s N95 Respirator: A Joint Effort
Peter Tsai is not the only person to be thanked for this life-saving invention. Prior to the patented N95 respirator that Tsai created, there was already a dust respirator developed by the company 3M. Such a respirator was made to be superior to surgical masks.
Now in 1972, 3M developed the first single-use N95 respirator so to speak. It was not without flaw, of course, as it was made of fiberglass. This N95 respirator was stiff. It made use of electrostatic charge fiber filtration as well. However, particles later clog up the fibers, making it difficult to breathe comfortably for a long period using this N95 respirator.
With the outbreak of the COVID-19 virus, new N95 masks were created. Peter Tsai and 3M combined forces to create a light, breathable, well-fitting N95 respirator. It strives to offer full coverage of the nasal passage and mouth to provide safety for the wearer.
N95 Respirator: Supply and Demand Problem
As of this writing, the end of the COVID-19 pandemic remains elusive. Healthcare professionals are forced to reuse the N95 masks that they use after already being exposed to the virus. Some doctors and nurses are even forced to use the same N95 respirator in the span of a 60-hour shift. Healthcare professionals are appalled when they are asked to use surgical masks, instead.
Because of the alarming rate at which COVID-19 escalates worldwide, the production of N95 masks has been greatly compromised. Many US companies that produce N95 respirators ceased production in the 2000s due to foreign competition.
However, Taiwan also ceased the exportation of N95 respirators at the onset of the pandemic. Hoarding and price gouging even lead to the confiscation of N95 masks. Further creating a global decrease of N95 respirator supply is that China controls half of the global production of masks. As China also continues to face the pandemic, the country opted to produce N95 respirators only for domestic use.
How to make N95 Respirator last longer?
In an effort to help with the demand and supply problem regarding the N95 respirator, Peter Tsai began working with his team again to figure out the best ways to sanitize N95 masks.
Keep in mind that the N95 respirator is only deemed safe to use for up to 8 hours. This, provided that it is not wet, damaged, soiled, or compromised. Furthermore, the N95 respirator also has limitations making it ineffective in the presence of oil particles, in an oxygen-deficient atmosphere. It is also ineffective against hazardous gases.
Utmost care and caution should be exercised when one comes in possession of an N95 respirator—a prime commodity during this pandemic. The inventor of the N95 respirator offers different sterilization methods to prolong the use of the N95 respirator of every wearer. Sterilization methods include:
- Sterilizing in a commercial oven at 71 degrees Celsius
- Soaking in alcohol
- Let the virus die naturally for 7 days
The last method is the preferred choice of the N95 respirator inventor Peter Tsai. It is concluded that the COVID-19 virus dies on the surface of the N95 respirator in the absence of a host. However, it must be left hanging in an isolated spot for 7 days. This is to coax the bacteria to become inactive.
Tsai advises that N95 respirator wearers buy at least seven N95 masks to last them up to one-week interchanging use of each mask. Though disposable, the N95 respirator you buy at a shop online can be used again safely instead of throwing it away after a single-use. There are N95 masks for sale at an affordable price when bought in bulk.
Lastly, Peter Tsai is working to create a superior N95 respirator made of silicone, a material superior to plastic. The N95 respirator in the making is expected to be reusable without being easily damaged, unlike the N95 masks in the market today.