Sustainable masks & face coverings for 2022 & beyond

My personal evaluation of three consumer grade elastomeric respirators is available further down in this post: Breathe99 B2, FLO Mask, and ZShield Reveal.3 brands of reusable face mask: B2, Reveal, FLO

As of July 2022, many people claim to be “over COVID;” I’m not one of them. I continue to mask regularly. I cover my face to protect a high risk member of my household, and because I have enough uncomfortable health issues of my own already. The specter of long COVID looms large enough to make indoor masking my preference.

Long COVID is most common in middle aged people, affecting as many as one in four recovered patients according to a Nature news feature. The CDC gives me better odds than 25% in their Data for Long COVID section, but, the fact is, no one yet knows the true prevalence of the condition.

Long term, I see no reason to ever stop masking in crowded conditions such as boarding a flight or on mass transit, though my specific level of vigilance will probably vary as this pandemic wanes and flu season comes and goes.Disposable surgical mask

The particular genesis of today’s post was a New York Times article by Andrew Jacobs published July 3, 2022. It’s worth reading, but the gist is that American hospitals should have learned the supply chain lesson of the COVID-19 pandemic and switched to elastomeric respirators for essential healthcare workers by now.

Elastomeric respirators are reusable face coverings using replaceable filter elements that work as well as disposable N95s to block the flow of germs. Many are domestically produced, to boot, in marked contrast to the largely imported supply of disposable masks.

Widespread adoption of elastomeric respirators would solve the problem of being dependent upon a hostile foreign nation for vital supplies while offering equal or better protection to each wearer with a better fit and simultaneously creating less waste.

Win-win-win.Merriam-Webster online dictionary defines elastomer as a noun, "any of various elastic substances resembing rubber"

The “elastomeric” part of the elastomeric respirator just means the body of the filtering face mask in question is stretchy or otherwise like rubber.

If the NYT article is to be believed, elastomeric respirators are often judged more comfortable by the wearer than N95s. Disposable filters are still required, but they might require only annual replacement for a few dollars, while the main body of the device—composed of washable silicone—should last a decade at a one time cost of $15-40 each.

For about two thirds of the money spent by the Trump administration attempting to sterilize and re-use N95s, we could have outfitted each of the nation’s 18 million health care workers with an elastomeric respirator according to Nicolas Smit as quoted in Jacobs’ article.Pile of money

Or, to harp on the affordability point from a different angle, a paper published in the Journal of the American College of Surgeons showed: “Outfitting… workers [with elastomeric respirators] was one-tenth as expensive than supplying them with disposable N95s. A separate study found that after one year, the filters were still 99 percent effective.”

And, given the chance to switch back to N95s after the study period in question, none of the employees opted to do so. I take that to mean those healthcare workers found the alternative masks easier to wear or use.

Toward the end of the New York Times piece was a mention of just one particular small business that’s giving up in the face of the healthcare system’s irrational insistence on sticking with disposable, imported masks. Breathe99—whose elastomeric respirator made the cover of Time magazine in 2020 as an innovation prize-winner—is winding down operations at the company’s Minnesota plant.

I followed the link, and found that I could purchase Breathe99’s B2 mask at retail as of early July 2022. Since I still see daily death reports in my newspaper, I remain in the market for comfortable, effective face coverings. I decided to resume exploration of better Personal Protective Equipment (P.P.E.), hoping I can reduce waste while staying safe.

I don’t buy disposable water bottles or accept single use plastic cutlery when I get takeout food, so why should I continue to rely upon paper face masks when more comfortable, equally effective alternatives exist?

One caveat: there are officially approved elastomeric respirators for clinical use, but consumer grade options are unlikely to be officially NIOSH approved. Whether this is due to pandemic backlogs or if it is just a regulatory grey area, I’m not informed enough to say. Just be aware that we still have no official designation for effective, FDA-approved consumer grade face coverings.

Now that mask mandates have ended and masking is a voluntary, personal choice in most settings, the up side to all of that reckless abandon is that no one is likely to complain about any specific face covering I acquire or wear. There should be no push back to the lack of an official protection rating for any mask I select.

On the down side, I’m left having to hope these products actually work as designed, and as represented by their manufacturers. I’m “doing my own research” here because I have no choice if I want a comfortable, well-fitting, effective face covering. I do go all the way to published papers from scientific journals and material spec sheets whenever possible.

For example, here’s a USA Today fact checking story about why filter media with a physical pore size of around 0.3 micron can be quite efficient at stopping SARS-CoV-2 viral particles which are themselves closer to 0.1 micron.

One clear takeaway of the past couple of years is that any mask offers better protection from airborne viruses than a bare face does. I do feel confident that I won’t end up worse off than I would be wearing a cloth mask or an ill-fitting surgical one when I don a tight-sealing face covering utilizing an effective filter medium at the point(s) where all my breath enters or exits the device.

The author wearing an improvised home-made face covering in 2020

This improvised face covering was my first attempt at masking when the idea was introduced to the general public in 2020. This loose, single layer of fabric is obviously not protective in the way a fitted non-woven medical mask would be, but I crafted it for passing strangers on walks around my neighborhood, so, in hindsight, I wasn’t at high risk when I wore it.

I will compare and contrast three intriguing designs that I’ve purchased at retail and tested for myself for the reader’s convenience. Because these elastomeric products are relatively expensive—from $60 to 90 per starter kit—I hope my comparison will help others pick a useful style.

Because of the note of doom sounded by the NYT article that sent me down this path, I advise anyone picking up one of these expensive face coverings to stock up on specialized, custom fit filters while they are still available. We as a society seem to have learned very little from the deprivations and death wrought by COVID-19. Even top quality, well designed products may be dropped from the market if their makers go out of business.

I ordered three different face coverings direct via their manufacturer’s web sites, paying the stated retail price. Here’s the list including the July 2022 list price:

  1. B2 mask by Breathe99 as referenced in the NYT article ($59.99)
  2. FLO Mask for adults or children though I’m only testing the adult version ($89.99)
  3. ZShield Reveal rigid mask which I pre-ordered and got in 2021 ($89.99)

Continue reading

O frabjous day! I’ve got sprouts on my windowsill

Because harbingers of spring seem like the most Wonderful Thing to share these days, allow me to present the first shoots of my nascent 2021 garden.Kale and Collard sprouts grown in peat pucks in disposable aluminum muffin tin

I feel like the preening mother of debutantes. Stand up straight, my darlings! Never fear; the one in the front on the left is tall and proud now.

I’m not really much of a gardener, so my delight is no doubt outsized. Add my family to the ranks of pandemic plant-tenders, motivated by grocery deficits in 2020 to expand from a handful of pots to a balcony-full. My pride in such a minuscule accomplishment certainly feels weightier than four spindly seedlings gracing a disposable aluminum muffin tin full of peat pellets.

Here’s a close up of my first born sprout. Though I do feel a bit guilty contributing yet more photos of kale to the internet. At least it isn’t on a plate…

Kale sprout one inch tall

I’m particularly happy that these seeds germinated since they were left over from DH’s burst of gardening enthusiasm at the beginning of the pandemic last year. The little beauty above could be any of four types included in Burpee’s Kale Blend, though, statistically, I suppose she’s most likely to be Dwarf Blue Curled Vates.

Lest any hapless would-be gardener look to me for inspiration, be aware that I took the earliest possible seed starting dates for my zip code from an online calculator offered by A Way to Garden. Being a true nerd, I also added a sheet to record my seed starting results to the Excel spreadsheet* where I track my annual purchases of plant and seed varietals.

Early planting reflects both my enthusiasm to welcome the coming season in a year where indoor socializing has been so sharply curtailed, and also the high probability that I will kill some of these poor plants and need one or more subsequent sowing to end up with any healthy seedlings to transplant by the time our last frost actually passes.

Open Burpee Kale Blend seed packed with 2020 scrawled on it

Kale and collards both—according to my online sources—are better sown outdoors directly and left to grow in peace. I started a few anyway. The seeds were here and I was curious to know if they were still viable. At a cost of less than 4 ¢ apiece, this form of experimentation is cheap.

Also, I’m itching for spring, so why not engage in anticipatory activity? Heaven forbid my idle hand become the devil’s workshop!Popular origin of saying about idle hands and the devilNot strictly Biblical, this phrase comes to us mostly thanks to Chaucer and Saint Jerome. See line 1595 of the former’s “The Tale of Melibee.”

“And hast thou slain the Jabberwock?
   Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!
   He chortled in his joy.

And in another utterly non sequitur-ious aside, how does anyone else feel about the fact that the Merriam-Webster dictionary offers a definition for frabjous, but the next two exclamations from the poem—callooh and callay—don’t merit inclusion?

My understanding is that Lewis Carroll coined frabjous in Jabberwocky, and a quick internet browse and articles like this one seems to support that supposition.Merriam-Webster screen shot states callay is not found

My question for the rest of you is: Do you ever describe a thing as frabjous,” or, like me, do you mostly quote the entire line from the poem if using the term?

Literary diversions aside, new life merits the frabjous, a callooh, and a callay, in my opinion. How can one help but marvel at the super powers contained in a single tiny seed? Thank heavens for the wisdom of nature, because sometimes it’s sufficient to keep even me from wreaking havoc on my best efforts at nurturing vegetables.

Don’t tell me there are people who can pull off cultivation of more than a few vegetables, herbs, and flowers without benefit of software-enhanced data analysis!

But, of course, I’m well aware that my habitual tendency to gather and play with data is anomalous. I doubt I’m the *only* one with spreadsheets for her wardrobe, recording drive times for various routes to frequent destinations, and prices by source for the family’s usual grocery purchases, but I suspect that there aren’t too many of us who dwell more easily in the realm of information vs. the actual world.

I geek, therefore I am.

Best internet error message ever: close this page and re-launch it from whence you came

In recent weeks, I helped one of my children apply to a competitive program at a local school.

Having gotten distracted from the open application page while it was in progress, I returned to my desk to what is now my favorite internet error message ever yet received. How often do we enjoy those, really?

And here it is, lest you appreciate it as much I do:

Your session has been lost error message, including advice to "re-launch it from whence you came"

Close this page and re-launch it from whence you came,” they advise.

Close this page and re-launch it from whence you came

Yes, that’ll do, pig.* That’ll do.

I try to hold back some of the force of my tidal waves of opinion from my dear children, attempting to allow them the latitude to be whomever they wish, and offering them the reins of their own educations whenever I can get them to take them. Boy oh boy, however, am I tickled pink by this turn of phrase.

I wouldn’t quite urge my kid to enroll in a program he wasn’t keen on because of it, but… Let’s just say I’m sorely tempted.

The pickiest grammarians amongst us will now argue about the redundancy of “from whence;” the preposition is actually implied by the whence itself, of course. I count myself amongst those who hold, though, that, if Shakespeare used it, it can’t be too offensive to the English language as a tool of self-expression. Continue reading

Dear Merriam-Webster, you should define “immolation” better than this!

I sincerely enjoy a good dictionary. I use a hardcover American Heritage edition a couple of times a week, the Merriam- Webster app or a paid Kindle version of several foreign language dictionaries often, and online lookups almost every day.

Recently, I was disappointed by Merriam- Webster online. I looked up “immolation,” mostly because it’s the kind of word whose correct spelling I prefer to confirm before using it in a post. Here’s what M-W had to say:

Screenshot immolation definintion MWI have to ask: seriously? This is the best definition you can provide?

If I don’t know what immolation means, I probably also don’t know the meaning of immolating or immolated, without which knowledge I can get no use from this definition.

And the example provides no new clues. Well, except that Aztecs performed “bloody” immolations, which still leaves the reader free to imagine any number of possible meanings.

img_7315In an age when most of the students I know prefer to “ask Siri” instead of looking up unknown words for themselves, I’d like to see Merriam- Webster and other dictionaries proving their worth at every opportunity.

I think this is one definition that could be done by Merriam-Webster much better.

Books that beg for dictionaries: when novels prompt a word quest

I love to read a book that challenges my vocabulary.

My younger son finds it fabulous; why would anyone want to stop a story to look up a strange word?

Definition FABULOUSI appreciate the novelty—the excitement—of meeting a new meaning. I’ll even take the time to browse my dictionary when an old acquaintance is being used in an unusual way.

I like older novels for this, and erudite ones.

Though the mysteries of Ngaio Marsh slip right into my favorite genre of relaxing bedside reading—drawing room murders from the heyday of British crime fiction—they also represent an era of rapid change in which slang blossomed. Some of the phrases are obscure enough that I can’t find their like on the internet.

book Ngaio Marsh curvet def - 1These aren’t “hard” words, necessarily, but phrases of a different time, and perhaps only ever used on a different continent. Dame Marsh set most of her novels in London, though she was born and died in New Zealand.

In the 1930’s, this college educated author and actress mined both the upper and lower castes of British society for material, including, it seems, popular turns of phrase. To read these novels, one must expect to hazard guesses at some vocabulary by context, and to find high class words worth looking up aplenty.

I don’t mind it at all. I’ve found a treasure hunt inside my diverting little story.

When the wind forces a character to “curvet like a charger,” I get a sense of its horsey motion, of course, but I turn to Merriam Webster to instruct me further on the verb’s specifics.

Definition of CURVET

Marsh could have written “pranced,” but how much fun would that be for me the next time I play Scrabble?

book dictionary - 1My son—and his home educated compatriot, The Scholar, whom I tutor in another subject—both recently expressed shock at an assertion on my part that there was value in looking words up in a physical dictionary. That’s my good old American Heritage (3rd edition) in the photos, though I tend to use Merriam-Webster for digital searches and paid for the iTunes edition thereof to use offline on my phone.

Even more outrageous than the claim that asking Siri wasn’t equal to practicing one’s alphabet by flipping through paper pages was the statement confirmed by the other mom in the room that we and many others grew up enjoying our relationship with a dictionary.

At least two of us grown up lovers of books felt affection, love, excitement at all that these hefty tomes had revealed to us. I’m guessing this applies to many more bibliophiles out there, some of them even less than middle aged.

Quick show of hands: who knew the verb “to curvet” before now? And who loves a dictionary? I’m guessing more of the latter than the former.