General Motors has accomplished an amazing feat. GM -in just a single week - set up a Level-1 surgical mask manufacturing line. The line has thus far produced 2,000 masks (as of last night). The plan is to produce 20,000 in the coming week for immediate delivery to front-line healthcare workers. GM further plans to ramp up to a rate of 50,000 masks every day – or up to 1.5 million masks a month. To find out exactly how these masks will help stop the pandemic, Torque News spoke to a doctor who is presently wearing such masks in her daily practice at a Boston-area hospital.
Related Story: How GM and Ford Are Helping to Fight the Coronavirus
Dr. Hande Tuncer Background
The doctor we spoke to is a past contributor to both Torque News and also EmaxHealth, a website associated with Torque News. Dr. Tuncer is a hematologist and oncologist, or "hemonc." She treats patients who have blood diseases or cancer, and specializes in blood cancer treatment. Currently, Dr. Tuncer works in a hospital setting seeing patients on a daily basis in a cancer clinic. In addition, she also conducts research studies to help develop new treatment methods and evaluate current treatments as part of a world-class teaching hospital network. She has worked in some of the nation's top hospitals, and was also once a volunteer emergency trauma doctor following an earthquake in Asia. For full disclosure, I should also point out that she is my wife.
A Bit About Medical Masks And How They Are Used
The masks we hear the most about are the single-use N95 masks. These masks can protect a healthcare worker from being infected by patients they are treating. These are the sought-after masks most needed now. Level-1 surgical masks are different and have traditionally been used in another way. They are worn by a person to prevent the spread of infection from themselves to others. So a healthy doctor might wear one during a procedure in order to keep a patient safe. Or a patient who may be ill would wear one when they were in a hospital to prevent giving the illness to another patient or staff member.
More Mask Background - This Story In Medium Helps Show Why Masks Are Critical For Doctors
How GM's Masks Will Help Reduce Transmission Right Now
How masks are used and which are used when is changing due to necessity. Any mask now has value. Although a Level-1 mask is not as effective as an N95-rated mask in preventing the wearer from contracting an illness, it still reduces the chances. As a tool in a hospital setting, the Level-1 mask is very important right now. Patients who may have the virus, or who are confirmed to have the virus can wear a mask like this to prevent the transmission to others.
Dr. Tuncer told us Level-1 masks also serve another function. "Medical staff have been putting surgical masks over their N95s." Dr. Tuncer explained that N95 masks are in such short supply that rather than being "single-use," N95s are being worn for an entire shift by medical staff. This is an easy fact to confirm by reading any recent story on the pandemic in America. Dr. Tuncer explained that the idea is to prolong the effectiveness of the N95 and to allow for even further protection of the worker.
Despite the first cases of the virus having arrived in the U.S. almost two months ago, and cases in the Boston area being widespread, doctors were not wearing any masks in hospitals during non-virus encounters as recently as this past weekend. This was not the wish of doctors, but the mandate of managers struggling to balance the health of patients and workers with the reality that masks were in critically short supply.
Dr. Tuncer sees Level 1 masks serving a new role as well. "As we transition from self-isolation at home to limited public interaction, wearing a mask will become the norm," said Dr. Tuncer. "Watch as America mimics best practices other countries have already adopted."
Medical staff now fear for their own lives, their patients' lives, and even the lives of family members in light of the pandemic. Masks like those now being manufactured by General Motors will play an important role in the front lines of the fight against this global pandemic.
Image Notes: Images of mask production workers courtesy of John F. Martin for General Motors. Third image of a nurse wearing two masks courtesy of Justin Garnick (Selfie).
John Goreham is a life-long car nut and recovering engineer. John's focus areas are technology, safety, and green vehicles. In the 1990s, he was part of a team that built a solar-electric vehicle from scratch. His was the role of battery thermal control designer. For 20 years he applied his engineering and sales talents in the high tech world and published numerous articles in technical journals such as Chemical Processing Magazine. In 2008 he retired from that career and dedicated himself to chasing his dream of being an auto writer. In addition to Torque News, John's work has appeared in print in dozens of American newspapers and he provides reviews to many vehicle shopping sites. You can follow John on Twitter, and view his credentials at Linkedin.