It’s 2022 and, sadly, we are no closer to ending the pandemic than we were in March 2020. With the sudden and rapid spread of the latest COVID-19 variant (Omicron) the conversation around proper PPE for frontline workers AND the public has never been so critical. We sat down with the Executive Director of American Mask Manufacturer’s Association and elastomeric mask advocate/social media influencer Nicolas Smit (@PPEtoHeros) to chat about his mission to provide superior respiratory protection – like the Comfort-Air®NxMD – to Americans and Canadians and how we can work to slow and stop of the spread of COVID-19.
Q) Tell us a little bit about your experience and background and what you do today?
I have a Bachelor of Liberal Science from Laurentian University, and a 3 year diploma in Mining Engineering Technology from Cambrian College.
I’ve been an advocate of one kind or another for years. Before the pandemic, I spent 4 years on the board of Directors for Crime Stoppers in Sudbury where I chaired a lot of their committees.
I spent 4 years as an Executive with the Canadian Institute Mining in Sudbury. I spent most of that time as their Social Chair.
During the pandemic, I joined the board of directors for the Greater Sudbury Watershed Alliance and I am currently their Vice Chair. I am also on the Simon Lake Stewardship Committee.
I also volunteer on committees for the World Health Network.
I am the Executive Director with the American Mask Manufacturer’s Association.
Q) As @PPEtoHeros on Twitter you have quite the following and have become a major influencer for high grade respiratory protection and elastomeric masks. How did you come to be such an advocate for elastomeric masks?
I got COVID-19 early in the pandemic and continue to suffer from long COVID-19. I want to make sure no one else has to go through what I did.
I became a big advocate for elastomeric respirators because I noticed nobody was recommending them as N95 alternatives. I started by getting the mining industry to donate them to local hospitals but after talking to the hospitals and realizing the government hadn’t let anyone know about elastomeric respirators, I needed to get the government to let everyone know to start using them.
I got the Ontario and Canadian government to look into elastomeric respirators and eventually recommending them. Since the government refused to let anyone know about those recommendations, I kept hearing about health care workers being actively prevented from using them so I reached out to Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s office to let them know about this major problem.
This started an internal investigation which Premier Ford’s executive assistant told me resulted in the government buying 100,000 elastomeric respirators from 3M.
There was such a lack of understanding about how elastomeric respirators could be used so I did presentations for the Ontario government in parliamentary committee meetings on the effect of COVID-19 on different industries.
I kept fighting hard to raise awareness around elastomeric respirators since the government refused to do so. I also wanted to help manufacturers understand new markets they could enter so I started helping manufacturers around the world.
AMMA’s mission is to help bring domestic mask manufacturing jobs back to the U.S. and to ensure America is ready for whatever the future has in store.
Q) What keeps you up at night around the pandemic and how it has affected North American PPE supply?
What concerns me the most is that while the government has half heartedly admitted to airborne transmission, they refuse to promote the need to now protect everyone from airborne transmission.
The supply chain problems are very concerning because there are so many downstream effects that can be easily avoided. If workers are given masks with reliable protection against infection, problems along the supply chain would be minimal and the economy could start to repair itself.
The biggest misinformation is that vaccines do a great job stopping transmission and that masks aren’t needed to stop the spread of your vaccinated. Breakthrough cases are common and while vaccines do an amazing job to reduce hospitalizations and deaths, they don’t work well to stop transmission or long COVID-19.
Some of the biggest misconceptions are that there aren’t enough reliable masks for the government to be able to recommend them to everyone. There are 100’s of millions of N95’s collecting dust and elastomeric respirator manufacturers can’t convince people to use elastomeric respirators since people assume they are dangerous since they haven’t heard the government ever mention the recommendations to use them.
Q) Speaking of misinformation what are some of the other biggest misconceptions around masks and respirators right now?
The biggest misconception is that elastomeric respirators and N95’s weren’t needed because the government assumed only droplet transmission was happening. Both those types of masks offer much better droplet protection than surgical masks so if the goal was to use the best protection against droplets, their use should’ve been recommended over surgical masks.
Elastomeric respirators are reusable so if you have one, you don’t need to worry about shortages of N95’s or surgical masks when they are in short supply. They help keep costs down as well since they can be reused for years and they can be used in more work environments due to their rubber like material.
I think there is so little information on N95’s and elastomeric respirators because the government has refused to promote anything but a vaccine alone approach since talking about masks is too politically divisive.
Q) How were you introduced to Dentec Safety and the NEW Comfort-Air®NxMD?
I was introduced to Dentec Safety because when I was doing my first presentation on elastomeric respirators, I wanted to find a great example of one with a speech diaphragm and Dentec had a full-face version that I was really impressed with.
I kept getting more and more impressed over time with Dentec and their new elastomeric respirators without exhalation valves and I knew they would be a great example to show everyone what was possible and available.
I like and support the Comfort-Air®NxMD because it’s so easy to breathe through, it’s comfortable to use for long periods of time and since a lot of people are afraid of exhalation valves, it is easier to wear than valved elastomeric respirators. For example, I read an article about a major airline that didn’t like their staff using elastomeric respirators because of the valve and they actually started spreading fear about them. It made no sense because if valve masks are so dangerous why is it recommened on the CDC website? There is just so much contradicting information out there which is why people are so unsure of what products are providing effective protection. That’s why the Comfort-Air®NxMD is such a game changer because it doesn’t have the exhalation valve so it’s easier for people to opt-in.
I actually created a classification system to rank elastomeric masks and I rated the Comfort-Air®NxMD with 5 stars. Millions of people are using this document now as a reference and the WHO and CDC want to start using this system. See below:
Q) Who do you think should be wearing an elastomeric respirator like the Comfort-Air®NxMD and what are the priority applications?
Anyone looking for protection from COVID-19 needs respiratory protection from air pollution including wildfire smoke, needs to be protected from carcinogenic airborne particulates, doing home renovations where you could be exposed to dangerous airborne particulates would be great for people to use elastomeric respirators. The mining, construction, pharmaceutical and agricultural industries could also greatly benefit from using elastomeric respirators.
In terms of right now and with the rapid spread of the new Omicron variant any public space and business could and should move to elastomeric masks like the Comfort-Air®NxMD. In order to slow and stop the spread we need to make high grade mask protection a priority for all healthcare workers and from grocery store employees to workers on factory lines. Anywhere you are near others you should be wearing an N95 respirator. We can keep businesses open and the economy going by using this strategy of making high grade respiratory protection a priority.
Annabel Kim Associate Professor of French at Harvard
in her NEW Comfort-Air®Nx with P100 cartridges.
Vaccines are a safeguard measure and the last line of defense, but they don’t prevent the spread. If we don’t control and stop the spread, we will keep getting new variants and the end point to the pandemic will keep moving farther and farther away.
We can promote higher grade protections for the public with PSA’s, government recommendations/regulations including banning cloth masks in the workplace, having social media giants like Facebook and Twitter letting users know, and mainstream news organizations can work together to highlight the need for everyone to upgrade to masks that offer reliable protection.
Social Media influencer and better mask advocate
Naomi Wu rocks her new Comfort-Air®NxMD.
The government in Canada is currently refusing to do anything around elastomeric respirators including correcting misinformation on government websites telling people to avoid using them at all costs.
The U.S. government is looking to now put elastomeric respirators into widespread use. The CDC/NIOSH is just about done their pilot project so we should hopefully soon here more about them by the Biden Administration.
Q) What do you think the future holds for the proper respiratory protection and the pandemic?
I think 2022 will be a year of great change. People will finally learn about elastomeric respirators and the need to wear better masks and the government will start to use a multi-layered approach to stopping transmission instead of only relying on anyone on the front line.
The government needs to stop allowing workplaces to get away with keeping workers at risk and they need to introduce workplace legislation that will offer workers proper protection. The government also needs to enforce these regulations since their lack of enforcement of worksites has meant a lot of employers think they can get away with keeping their employees at risks.
Dentec Safety is a leading manufacturer and distributor of safety products in the North America since 2004. Dentec Safety is dedicated to providing the highest quality safety products and solutions delivering enhanced value and comfort. Our expertise from decades of experience in Industrial Safety and our innovative design technologies have solidified us as thought leaders in the field. Protection and comfort are at the core of everything we do at Dentec. As a leading manufacturer of Safety Solutions, it is our mission to help organizations do the right thing, keep their employees safe and exceed Industry Health & Safety Standard.