Surgical mask service covers Murraylands' needs

A shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) at the start of the coronavirus pandemic has inspired Murray Bridge dental clinic owners to branch out and begin making surgical masks.

Mart-Marie and William Bissett, who co-own Bridge Dental, recognised supplies of PPE were starting to become an issue around March and decided to do something about it.

Mrs Bissett contacted multiple mask-making machine suppliers online and negotiated to get one sent to Murray Bridge to create a local supply of disposable surgical masks.

"We are in the health industry, but are not frontline. Without masks we will have to stop treating patients and at some points this year it became a real worry for a lot of dental practices," she said.

"Working in health care, we have been wearing masks for hours on end almost every day, and none of us have suffered from a lack of oxygen yet."

Once the machine was set up, production of level three masks - the highest level a surgical mask can be - began at the end of August.

The machine the couple purchased can produce 5000 to 6000 masks an hour, but it has been a big learning curve for staff, so is only getting up to speed now.

While the masks are produced mostly for the medical and dental industries under the company name Bissett Medical Supplies, local residents have supported the venture as well - especially when the state government strongly encouraged people to wear masks after Adelaide's COVID-19 outbreak was revealed last week.

"We had a big influx of clients on Wednesday at the dental clinic - that is the point of local sale to the public," Mrs Bissett said.

"We stayed until 9pm and were busy until we shut the door."

Mrs Bissett said they would continue to sell masks from the dental clinic to the public and were also building relationships with local businesses like freight companies and abattoirs.

She said having been a dentist for 20 years, it was great to try something different, learn more about manufacturing and machinery, and become self-sufficient.

"I have learnt a lot about nuts and screws and cylinders and everything in between, I really enjoyed that," she said.

"The biggest satisfaction, though, is to be self-sufficient at the dental clinic, with at least this important item."

She said it was important to know how to properly put on and take off the mask, as mishandling it could undo the effort of wearing one.

Advice from SA Health about how to put on a mask is as follows:

  • Don't touch or adjust the front of your mask while wearing it
  • Wash and dry (or sanitise) your hands
  • Take your clean, unused mask by the ear loops or strings
  • Put them over your ears or tie them behind your head
  • Make sure your mask is completely covering your nose, mouth and chin

How to take off a mask is as follows:

  • Wash and dry (or sanitise) your hands
  • Do not touch the front of your mask while removing it
  • Store cloth face masks in a plastic bag until you have an opportunity to wash them, or responsibly dispose of single-use surgical masks
  • Wash and dry (or sanitise) your hands again

"When a mask is not worn appropriately and being touched continually it defeats the purpose," Mrs Bissett said.

"Masks can give a false sense of security, but if it is worn properly, it does not only protect the person wearing it, it also protects others around you, in case you are the carrier of a disease."

She said she is often asked the difference between reusable cloth masks and disposable masks.

Both have their benefits, she said; cloth masks can be worn multiple times, while surgical disposable masks give strong protection.

"Level 3 surgical masks are the same level as what get used for surgery, for instance in hospital," she said.

"Surgical masks have to be splash resistant, have proper filter capability, but still have good breathability.

"To pass level 3 tests the masks have to have greater than 98 per cent filtration; our masks on average had greater than 99pc filtration.

"Although these masks have good filtration and good splash resistance, they are surprisingly breathable."