Objectives: Non-traditional materials are used for mask construction to address personal protective equipment shortages during the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic. Reusable masks made from surgical sterilization wrap represent such an innovative approach with social media frequently referring to them as "N95 alternatives." This material was tested for particle filtration efficiency and breathability to clarify what role they might have in infection prevention and control.
Methods: A heavyweight, double layer sterilization wrap was tested when new and after 2, 4, 6, and 10 autoclave sterilizing cycles and compared with an approved N95 respirator and a surgical mask via testing procedures using a sodium chloride aerosol for N95 efficiency testing similar to 42 CFR 84.181. Pressure testing to indicate breathability was also conducted.
Results: The particle filtration efficiency for the sterilization wrap ranged between 58% to 66%, with similar performance when new and after sterilizing cycles. The N95 respirator and surgical mask performed at 95% and 68% respectively. Pressure drops for the sterilization wrap, N95 and surgical mask were 10.4 mmH2O, 5.9 mmH2O, and 5.1 mmH2O, respectively, well below the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health limits of 35 mmH2O during initial inhalation and 25 mmH2O during initial exhalation.
Conclusions: The sterilization wrap's particle filtration efficiency is much lower than a N95 respirator, but falls within the range of a surgical mask, with acceptable breathability. Performance testing of non-traditional mask materials is crucial to determine potential protection efficacy and for correcting misinterpretation propagated through popular media.
Keywords: COVID-19; Masks; Particle size; Personal protective equipment; Sterilization.