Before COVID-19, not many people knew what an N95 mask even was. Now it’s a household name. What most people still don’t know is that the N95 mask has remained virtually unchanged since the early 1970s. In the time since, there have been quite a few epidemics including SARS, MERS, and H1N1.
During the SARS outbreak in 2003, it was revealed that 43% of the casualties were healthcare workers, many of whom removed their Surgical N95 masks and risked exposure because the masks were too uncomfortable and impractical for use during long, grueling shifts. Other industries where the use of N95 masks is common told the same story of discomfort. If professionals can’t bear wearing N95 masks, then it should be apparent that an upgrade is needed.
After the SARS experience, the federal government launched Project B.R.E.A.T.H.E., to assess how to improve N95 masks in order to provide better protection for frontline workers. This group of experts from across a number of specialties recommended 28 changes needed for respirator masks to be truly effective. The report, published in 2009, was a call-to-action … that was widely ignored by manufacturers.
In 2018, we were introduced to a mask that met some of the recommendations laid out in the Project B.R.E.A.T.H.E. report. We realized there was a great need for these improved masks, not only for epidemics, but for the countless people working in industries where air is easily contaminated, and for people living in areas where air quality is deteriorating due to wildfires, earthquakes or other natural and emergency situations. Healthcare workers, construction and mining professionals, first responders and many others need the best respirator mask they can get. The need was glaring, nobody had addressed it, and here was a potential solution.
We established OCTO Safety Devices to produce and market this new mask inspired by the Project B.R.E.A.T.H.E. report: the OCTO Respirator Mask (ORM). By the end of 2019, we began production and planned to fine-tune the design and increase volume throughout 2020 before fully launching to market in 2021.
Our hope for a slow and steady rollout was thwarted. In the first few weeks of 2020, we heard about a mysterious virus. As COVID-19 spread and took hold worldwide, we knew ORM needed to go to market faster. It could literally save lives.
So, with all hands on deck, we’ve been ramping up production as quickly as we can. During summer 2020, we caught the attention of media including Fast Company and began taking orders, shipping ORMs every day to people across the United States and internationally. Our customers are healthcare workers, paramedics, teachers, firefighters, and, simply, people who want to protect themselves and their families - not just from COVID-19, but also from air pollution, construction dust, and, most recently, smoke and debris caused by wildfires.
And we’re continuing to work on new iterations of the ORM even as we’re delivering as many units as possible to those in need. We believe nobody should be without access to clean and safe air.
COVID-19 has completely changed our way of life. It’s also highlighted how important it is for everyone to have an effective respirator mask. Even after the pandemic, this will still be important. Even if you’re not working in a profession where respirator masks have to be worn, this will still be important. Everyone should have a reliable respirator mask like the ORM for future preparation. With a 10-year shelf life, ORM is a must-have to include in your emergency go-bag. If another pandemic, earthquake, wildfire or the like impacts where you live, ORM will be ready for you.
Natasha Duwin and Tobias Franoszek
Co-Founders, OCTO Safety Devices