Dr. Ron Gertsch was getting ready to launch a kickstarter for a fitness tracker when the coronavirus pandemic shut down the economy. Gertsch, a bariatric surgeon in San Diego, shifted gears for his company, Oxystrap, and began producing N95-equivalent masks.
The difference between his masks and others is that his are hand washable and reusable.
“There's no reason N95 masks can't be reusable. It's planned obsolescence,” Gertsch, a 1972 graduate of Indiana University School of Medicine, said in a phone interview last week. “I drive two 1983 Mercedes-Benz vehicles, I have 800,000 miles on them. They're as good today as they were 35 years ago. Unfortunately, in this day and age, people plan obsolescence. They want to sell you more. That doesn't have to happen.”
Under current load, the company can produce 5,000 masks a week at its San Diego manufacturing facility.
Gertsch and Oxystrap's current production can't keep up with demand as the masks are selling as soon as they become available.
“There's been a high demand,” he said. “We're a small company. They're actually rated as N99 because they're made out of a microbiological barrier material. In my opinion, everyone needs to be wearing masks. There are two problems with other masks on the market: They're not available. The other problem, the N95 masks that are being produced are not reusable.”
Gertsch is calling on other companies to begin producing reusable N95 masks.
“My hope is that other companies will do the same thing. N95 masks do not need to be disposable,” he said. “... Our masks are something we can hand wash. We send out our masks with instructions to use them effectively, if you don't use them correctly, you can self-contaminate. It only takes a couple minutes to wash, air dry overnight and they're ready to go the next day.”
Gertsch is calling on the federal and state governments to support the manufacturing of the masks.
“The government has to figure out a way to mass produce these,” Gertsch said. “If they're willing to do that in a way that are nondisposable, that's the key. This isn't the first infectious disease crisis. It won't be the last. The economy can't remain shut down, that's rapidly becoming a disaster.
“... If you want to get the economy up and running, you have to have an effective mask, that's what we've created. I'm willing to ramp up our production to produce hundreds of thousands, that's going to take some assistance from the government. That takes some money to do that. We're doing what we can.”
Gertsch reiterated the two biggest keys to avoiding the spread of the virus, or any other infectious disease.
“You need to avoid touching your face when your hands are not clean and when you're in close proximity to other people, you need to wear a mask,” he said. “Those two things will dramatically reduce the spread of disease. If you're not in close proximity, you don't need to wear a mask. If you're 6 feet or more, there's no need to wear a mask but when you're in close proximity, those are the two key elements.”