A few months ago, when the COVID virus was really taking off in the United States, like a lot of people I spent quite a bit of time searching for N95-quality masks.
My wife, Laurel, and I are 71. Laurel has asthma. So we're in a high-risk category when it comes to COVID. The more we can lower our risk by physical distancing, hand washing, and wearing a mask, the better.
Back in 2011, when some Fukushima nuclear plant radiation was making its way across the Pacific, my wife and I had gotten a box of medical N95 masks. We dug them out to wear during the COVID crisis, but I knew they wouldn't last forever and I wanted some alternatives.
Which were difficult to find. Very difficult. Almost impossible, in fact.
I turned to Kickstarter. In case you aren't familiar with it, this is a way for fledgling companies with innovative products to raise money from backers to get their venture off the ground. In exchange, you get the product once it becomes available. I like how frequent updates are sent to backers, making you feel like you're a company insider.
in addition, I found a Canada company that offered a N95-quality mask, albeit with a lengthy shipping date. I've gotten that mask and one of the Kickstarter masks. Here's my take on them, along with a link to the web site of the other Kickstarter mask that hasn't arrived yet.
First, my favorite so far: O2 Nano Mask. I got this Kickstarter mask about a week ago. I've worn it grocery shopping and to a haircut. The O2 Nano Mask seems like a great product, designed in San Francisco and made in the United States. It costs $36. I got a large for me and a medium for my wife.
Both fit us fine. The mask is a stretchy blend of Poly Nylon and Spandex material. As you can see in the photo above, a filter is inserted through the slots on each side of the mask. The ends of the filter are held tight to velcro on the mask so the filter doesn't move around.
Here's a screenshot from the O2 Nano Mask web site that shows what the filter is made of and what it does. Pretty impressive. Each filter is good for up to 60 hours of wear time.
I got some extra filters. Three come with each mask, but I figured it would be good to have some additional filters since there is no way to know how long we're going to be dealing with the COVID crisis.
Second, I got a hard shell mask from a similarly-named Canadian company, O2 Canada. It seems like a quality product, but the mask isn't as comfortable as the O2 Nano. It fits more tightly, which likely means it protects better.
However, there's a certain Darth Vader look to the mask, so probably I'll be wearing the O2 Nano much more often. If I wanted the highest level of COVID protection, though, I'd wear this mask.
The Canadian mask would be excellent for do-it-yourself jobs where you don't want to inhale noxious substances. And also don't worry how you look while wearing the mask. It has a replaceable filter also. The cost is pretty high, $70. The shell comes in various colors in addition to the standard white. I got a black one, obviously.
Third, I haven't gotten the B2 mask yet. It's a Kickstarter project where delivery has been delayed due to a supplier of a component having to fulfill orders from the government that have a higher priority. I'm supposed to get the mask in August now. It has an interesting filter design.
I paid $99 for two masks and 20 filters. Here's a description of the mask from the Kickstarter page.
The B2 is a reusable respirator that filters 99% of common contaminants and reduces filter cost and waste by half. Unlike existing consumer masks, the B2 features a flexible, patent-pending facepiece that provides superior protection and comfort. The B2 is the culmination of 4+ years of design and development, and is now ready to be mass produced.
Now, you might be wondering why I've spent several hundred dollars to get three different N95-quality masks. Well, one reason is that I had no idea how long it would take to get each mask. With the COVID virus spreading like crazy (it still is, in the United States at least), I was highly motivated to get masks to protect me and my wife from infection.
Another reason is the cost-benefit ratio.
Coming down with COVID isn't like getting the flu. Even if you don't die or end up in an ICU, nasty effects of the virus can stay with you for weeks, months, or a lifetime. Believe me, if someone asked a COVID sufferer, "Do you wish you'd paid $200 for masks that could have kept you from getting it?" they wouldn't hesitate to say, "YES!"
That said, any mask or face covering is better than none at all. So please wear one. A cloth mask will do just fine, though it won't be as protective as masks like the one's I've talked about that filter much smaller particles.