How pilots can better address the three types of airborne threats in the cabin
April 29, 2021 By Phil Lightstone
During the COVID-19 pandemic, masking and social separation have become the new normal. In January of 2020, some medical professionals did not feel that masking was required. Fast forward to 2021, masking has become mandatory in certain environments like airports.
Recently, medical officials have recommended double masking. As part of our New Normal, some people never leave their home without their keys, wallet, smartphone and mask. Sadly, blue surgical masks have become the new liter and counterfeit masks have been found in Canada’s PPE supply chain.
In Canada, medical masks are tested and certified by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), which maintains a database of masks.
There are three types of airborne threats which we need to protect against: Pathogenic viruses (e.g. people to people, animals to people); ecologic, which is naturally occurring such as dust and allergens; and anthropogenic, which is human created such as automotive pollution and greenhouse gases.
The COVID-19 virus can vary in length from nine to 12 nanometres (nm). Respiratory droplets, which contain COVID-19 are typically five to 10 micrometers (µm) in length. Individuals who are in close contact with an asymptomatic COVID-19 person, can be exposed to hundreds or thousands of virus particles, which will increase the probability of an infection. There is evidence that under certain conditions, people with COVID-19 seem to have infected others who were more than two metres away.
These transmissions occurred within enclosed spaces that had inadequate ventilation.
An aircraft’s cockpit is a perfect environment to transmit viruses. They are small confined spaces where the flight crews are contained for many hours, such as the Cessna 150 or 172 environment which flight instructors and students operate out of during flight training. From General Aviation (GA) and Business Aviation (BA) perspectives, being in a small enclosed cockpit puts the flight crew and passengers into close proximity and at risk. Many flight schools have mandated the use of masks while flying dual. Transport Canada has mandated that passengers must wear a face mask at airport screening checkpoints, during the boarding process, during the flight, and upon landing and disembarking at a Canadian airport. Air operator flight crews are exempt from wearing a face mask while on the flight deck. New disinfecting protocols have been implemented to provide a sterile environment. (See my article entitled COVID-19 Aircraft Tech in the May 2020 edition of Wings magazine).
Masks should solve three critical issues, including fit, filtration and breathability. Fogging of eye glasses and sunglasses is an inherent problem while wearing a mask. Consider an anti-fog spray or cloth, which typically provides up to 12 hours of protection to glasses. Other strategies include: Anti-fog lenses; tighten the mask around your nose and cheeks; place a tissue strip inside your mask between your nose and mask; exhale downward; and adjust the nose pads so that your glasses rest slightly away from your face.
Masks fall into a three categories: Face masks, surgical masks, and respirators. More information can be found at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) COVID-19 webpage www.cdc.gov/
coronavirus. A face mask is a mask, with or without a face shield, that covers the wearer’s nose and mouth and may or may not meet fluid barrier or filtration efficiency levels. Face masks that are not intended for a medical purpose are not considered medical devices.
Surgical masks are a mask that provides a physical barrier to fluids and particulate materials. Surgical masks intended for medical purposes are considered medical devices, which meet certain fluid barrier protection standards and flammability tests. Surgical masks are also tested for biocompatibility and are considered personal protective equipment (PPE). While a surgical mask may be effective in blocking splashes and large-particle droplets, they do not provide complete protection from germs and other contaminants because of the loose fit between the surface of the mask and your face.
Respirators, known as filtering face piece respirators (FFRs), including N95s and surgical N95s masks, filter at least 95 per cent of airborne particles. They are PPE that tightly fit the face and provide certain filtration efficiency levels to help reduce wearer exposure to pathogenic airborne particles. They provide a higher level of protection against viruses and bacteria when properly fit-tested. N95 masks from different producers may have slightly different specifications and the protective capabilities offered by N95 masks are largely attributed to the masks requirement to remove at least 95 per cent of all particles with an average diameter of 300 nm or less.
The CDC does not recommend using NIOSH-approved N95 respirators which are plagued with shortages and should be reserved for healthcare workers. Further masks with exhale valves should be avoided, as your respiratory droplets may escape and reach others around you.
Enterprise Premont (EP), a Louiseville company, is Quebec’s first manufacturer of disposable surgical masks. In 2020, the company pivoted its business, patenting both the mask manufacturing machinery and surgical masks, branded as Humask (www.humask.com). Its masks are manufactured to ASTM F2100 standards. EP developed a unique filtration technology, called the HuCare filter membrane, for its Humask Pro, which improves comfort and protection, while reducing the inconvenience associated with wearing traditional masks. EP has eight disposable masks, Humask (1000 and 2000), Humask Pro (3000 and 4000), Humask Pro Vision (2000 and 3000), and Humask Kids (1000 and 2000), which are available in a variety of colours. Jet Black is its most popular colour.
The Humask 1000 is its entry-level mask, providing better filtration (and as such better protection) than a N95 mask. The Humask Pro Vision has a window allowing the wearer’s mouth to be seen. This facilitates an improved interaction between the wearer and people. In noisy environments, being able to see the wearer’s mouth facilitates a better understanding of their speech patterns, as well as seeing the wearer smile (perfect for individuals in the service industry). The Pro line of masks are made from a material designed to wick moisture similar to GORE-TEX. Humasks may be ordered directly from its website with prices starting from $17.75 (plus taxes and shipping) for a box of 50 masks. Shipping is free on orders greater than $75, with a flat rate fee of $5 for orders less than $75. On the horizon, Enterprise Premont, is working on a biodegradable mask.
AirPop, founded in 2015, introduced a form fitting mask designed to create an effective seal between your mouth, nose and the rest of the world. Its masks offer the same, highly effective two-way barrier as the best medical and industrial-grade masks, but are specifically engineered to be comfortable all day. AirPop has masks for adults and children using a unique design creating which creates a 3D canopy of air with two mask components, the outer shell and inner filter. The 3D air dome created by their design, results in better breathability and comfort. The outer shell is washable while the snap in filter has a blocking efficiency of 99 per cent, including dust, bacterial and viral matter.
The inner filter has a gel seal designed to provide a comfortable seal between your skin and the filter and should be replaced every 40 hours of use. Additionally, the masks are made with cutting-edge fabrics that deliver strength and flexibility while remaining lightweight and easy to clean.
The AirPop Active mask retails for US$69.99 (excluding taxes and shipping), and includes four replaceable filters. A four pack of replaceable filters is US$24.99. All materials used to create the filter have been rigorously tested to meet U.S. and European ASTM F2100 and EN 14683:2019 performance standards.
AirPop has recently introduced its Active+ Halo mask which is equipped with a Bluetooth sensor, about the size of three stacked quarters, installed on the outside of the mask. Breathing data is stored on the Halo sensor for seven days, until it is transferred to the Halo App on a smart phone or tablet. The Halo sensor has a light which flashes as the mask wearer breaths. The LED colour can be changed in the App. The sensor uses a CR1632 battery, which is easily replaceable.
The mask kit includes a small plastic pry tool to open the sensor for battery replacement. The Halo App delivers a dashboard deepening the user’s understanding of the air quality around them and tracks: Number of breaths; pollutants captured by the filter; wearing time; AQI index; and filter life in hours.
The App has an activity mode (cycle, walk, run), which tracks breathes per minute, activity duration and distance travelled. The Halo App supports data integration to Apple’s Health App, pushing respiratory rate data (breaths per minute) to Apple Health. The Halo mask kit includes: an outer mask; four inner filters; travel pouch; user guide; and battery replacement tool, retailing for US$149.99 (plus taxes and shipping).
On the horizon, the Halo app will deliver more information about the manner in which the user is wearing the mask, to ensure that the mask is worn to maximize protection.
Sonovia Ltd. of Ramat Gan, Israel (www.sonoviashop.com), manufactures a high-quality, dual-layer breathable mask impregnated with zinc oxide. Founded in 2013, Sonovia, began manufacturing bed sheets impregnated with zinc oxide for hospitals and clinics.
Using high-quality cotton, Sonovia’s products were tested to stringent healthcare standards to ensure that pathogens could be safely removed as patients were moved in and out of beds. Actual COVID-19 virus is not available for testing of commercial products, however, the Sonovia material was tested at Austria’s HygCen medical lab using Vaccinia virus, which has similar properties to the SARS-COVID family.
When COVID-19 surfaced in 2019, Sonovia pivoted to manufacturing face masks, protecting both the wearer and those in close proximity, from pathogens. Its SonoMask can be washed up to 55 times before it should be discarded.
A convenient washing tracking card and fabric pouch is included with each mask. The masks are available in a variety of sizes, colours and either ear loops or head straps and can be ordered on-line or on Amazon. A single mask retails for $63.00 (plus taxes and shipping) Volume discounts are available. Use discount code “Aviation10” for an additional discount, when purchasing from Sonovia’s website.
As COVID-19 variants change the pandemic’s landscape, more caution should be exercised. Understanding your aviation, social and work circles, will help ensure that you do not end up as a COVID-19 statistic. Staying vigilant during this difficult time should not impact your quality of life, but for some of us, contracting the COVID-19 virus can be life altering.