A north Mobile County manufacturing company specializing in air conditioner filters has started making higher-quality masks for local hospital workers on the frontlines of fighting COVID-19
Chad Summerlin, CEO of Filters-NOW.com, told Lagniappe his company recently began making face masks with some of the highest quality filtration material used in its filters after being approached by local nurses and doctors working to triage, test and treat COVID-19 patients in the Mobile area.
“I’ve had nurses calling me that work here locally saying; We’re running out of supplies (personal protective equipment). Can you make masks for us?” Summerlin said. “This is just something where we saw an opportunity to help the community and at least offer some type of protection to these healthcare workers.”
Local workers make air conditioning filters at Filters-Now’s facility in Creola, the company also sells products made by other companies like 3M — the largest maker of medical face masks like the N95 respirator that’s generally the go-to when treating an infected patient.
When the COVID-19 pandemic first began to take hold of the United States a couple of weeks ago, Summerlin said his company sold out of 3M masks within a couple of days. Earlier this week, 3M’s CEO Mike Roman told reporters from CNBC all production efforts are going straight to healthcare workers.
But with shortages in some of the hardest-hit areas in the U.S. and resources running thin in Mobile, doctors and nurses have been scrambling to make the best of the supplies they do have — with some using lower quality masks, others using donated ones from painters and some scarfs and other clothing.
In the world of air filters, how much a particular product can capture is measured by its “Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value (MERV) rating, which uses a 1-16 scale to show how effectively it traps the small particles. The higher a MERV rating, the more types of particles the filter traps.
According to Summerlin, the masks his company is producing for medical workers are made with a media that’s rated MERV 13. A cursory internet search will show a number of MERV 13 filtration products that claim to be able to stop pollen, bacteria and virus carriers. Summerlin said he can’t say whether that is true in the case of the face masks because they haven’t been independently lab-tested.
“They’re made of our highest quality media that we use in our air filters, which is what we use to make our top-of-the-line products,” Summerlin told Lagniappe. “They’re not N95 respirators, but the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] is recommending doctors without the proper equipment use bandanas. We can’t make medical claims about their effectiveness, but I know it’s a lot better than a bandana.”
Summerlin couldn’t say how many masks Filters-Now has the capacity to make but said they’re able to fill the number of orders they’re getting at the moment. The masks are being sold $2.99 and $3.99 retail. Summerlin said there is a small markup on the products to cover the costs of production.
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