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HEPA filters and high-fit/high filtration masks provide dual benefits

By Devabhaktuni Srikrishna

May 26, 2021 (San Diego) -- In 2020, wildfires accounted for as much as half the fine particulate air pollution (PM 2.5) on the west coast and fire season is expected to be even more severe in 2021. While all smoke inhalation is bad, wildfire smoke is particularly dangerous due to the combination of chemicals it contains, including toxic gases and particulate matter from trees, homes, vehicles and industrial facilities. Recent research suggests risks from wildfire-specific PM 2.5 on respiratory health may be much worse than from other sources.

Another airborne risk this wildfire season is airborne transmission of COVID-19. With more contagious variants such as B.1.617.2 continuing to emerge, airborne transmission is especially risky for indoor areas including schools and office spaces.

Thankfully, there is something we can do to protect ourselves and our children from the heightened risks of both wildfire smoke inhalation and airborne transmission of COVID this wildfire season: HEPA filters and high-fit/high-filtration (hi-fi) masks.

For COVID-19, fresh air ventilation from outside is one of the best ways to reduce transmission. However, access to fresh outdoor air is not always feasible during wildfire season. In such situations, the CDC has recommended portable HEPA air purifiers. Not only do these filters help clean the air of toxic wildfire particles, but they also help rid the air of exhaled Coronavirus aerosols – a win-win when facing wildfire season during a global pandemic.

When investing in a HEPA filter, a common mistake is to underestimate the size (capacity) required of the HEPA air purifier by opting for “most popular” models or “Amazon’s choice.” This mistake can be prevented by paying close attention to the specs and utilizing a HEPA calculator to help determine your best coverage options.

In addition to HEPA air purifiers, COVID-19 masks are also great to repurpose for indoor and outdoor wildfire season protection. The safest and most effective hi-fi mask options available are masks that meet or exceed N95 standards and offer five key protective attributes: high filtration, superior fit, durability, breathability and quality control.

Many good options are available off-the-shelf, including N95 and elastomeric N95 (eN95) masks. When in doubt, look for NIOSH approval, which confirms a mask has been validated by the US government, and use resources that lay out the pros and cons of the various types of masks.

For those looking to upgrade their masks to a hi-fi model or expand their precautions to include an indoor HEPA air purifier, the time is now. Every year during wildfire season, the surge in demand leads to a shortage of N95 masks and air purifiers. 2021 is likely to have even more shortages with the combination of the ongoing pandemic and the predicted increased severity of wildfire season. By getting ahead of the rush, masks and air purifiers can be a vital part of protecting the greater population from many kinds of aerosolized dangers, including wildfire and dust storm particles, future pandemics, workplace-related particles, biological toxins and polluted air.

Devabhaktuni Srikrishna is a published expert in pandemics and the founder of Patient Knowhow, the first and only resource dedicated to informing the public about the importance and benefits of wearing hi-fi masks to ensure people are protected during the COVID-19 pandemic, wildfire season and beyond.

Pivotal in launching the hi-fi mask movement, Devabhaktuni draws upon several key skills in his approach to researching infectious diseases and aerosols, including mathematical modeling, public policy and engineering. His expertise has been featured in major media outlets including CBS News, Boston Globe, Marketplace Radio, CNN, Stat News, Harvard Business Review, Washington Post and more. In addition, his extensive research with top doctors and medical experts on infectious diseases including COVID-19, Ebola, Zika and Lassa Fever has been published in the world's top medical journals, including The Lancet and British Medical Journal. Previously, Devabhaktuni was the founder and CTO of Tropos Networks, which builds Wi-Fi mesh networks for cities and utilities across the globe. He has engineering credentials from MIT (EECS) and Caltech and is knowledgeable in all stages of product design, development, engineering and manufacturing. To learn more about Devabhaktuni and his efforts combating the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond, visit and follow him on Twitter @sri_srikrishna.

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