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Local company produces top-performing, protective face masks according to recent study

Posted January 20, 2021 10:24 a.m. EST

Easy Masks, a local face mask company, produces proprietary double-layer nylon masks. These masks tested second only to the gold-standard N95 medical mask according to a recent study. (Photo Courtesy of Easy Masks)

This article was written for our sponsor, Easy Masks.

A year ago face masks were typically donned in operating rooms and on Halloween only. Today, almost everyone is wearing one daily.

After COVID-19 swept the globe, health experts and scientists advised the public to wear face coverings to mitigate particle exchanges between people and thus, protect against the potential contraction of the novel coronavirus. People quickly learned that some masks were more efficient and comfortable than others.

In response to the pandemic, two companies came together to create a partnership to produce masks that were both easy-to-use and protective. Easy Masks is the creative inception of William (B.J.) Lawson, MD and co-founder of EHOP Health and Tyler Covington, co-president of Harriss & Covington Hosiery Mills. Together they designed and iterated on a mask design that was durable, comfortable and protective, but also locally made and produced.

Easy Masks "are intended for the general public for general, non-medical purposes and are not intended for the cure, mitigation, treatment, or prevention of disease."

"I believe that fabric masks are a useful tool in reducing exposure to, and thus the dose of viral particles. One of my clients was telling me how hard it was to procure PPE (personal protective equipment) for their essential employees at the beginning of the pandemic," said Lawson, whose company, EHOP Health, helps people reverse chronic disease. "That prompted me to pick up the phone and call Tyler Covington at Harriss & Covington and ask if they've ever thought about trying to make masks."

Harriss & Covington is a fifth-generation family business that has been manufacturing socks in High Point, North Carolina for over 100 years.

"I thought if anybody can do this, these guys can," said Lawson.

Lawson and Covington began emailing in March 2020, which kicked off a collaboration that would go on to become Easy Masks, which is headquartered in Apex.

"It was an excellent opportunity to keep our minds occupied during the economic shutdown and it was a lot of fun trying to come up with a mask that people wouldn't mind wearing for an entire shift," said Lawson. "We spent hours creating a durable and comfortable mask that could help our state, and our country, safely get back to work. At the end of four weeks we had a product that we were really pleased with."

Before making face masks, Lawson earned his medical degree at Duke University and studied biomedical and electrical engineering, which all came in handy as he helped design the Easy Masks prototype.

During the design process Lawson and Covington carefully considered their top two factors: comfort and effectiveness. It was important that the masks be comfortable enough that people could wear them for long stretches of time and that they fit properly.

"It boils down to the construction and materials that you use and how those materials are woven together to create the body of the mask," said Lawson. "Additionally, in regards to fit, if there are gaps around the bridge of the nose or cheekbones for example — that's going to allow a chance for particles to get in."

"The typical disposable paper mask, which is modeled on a surgical mask or a procedure mask — these procedure masks are actually not designed to breathe through. Instead, they're designed to protect a sterile field from droplets or secretions. So it's really a barrier, but as a result, it doesn't seal very well overall, so you have to breathe around the mask," finished Lawson.

Easy Masks are comfortable, washable face coverings that feature two-layer construction, replaceable non-woven inserts for enhanced filtration, and aluminum nose bridges for a better seal around the nose and cheekbones. The masks come in three different style designs, as well as a kids version.

  • The Apex - made from recycled polyester from water bottles and features two layers. Is best for cooler weather and air-conditioned indoor environments.
  • The Eden - made from recycled nylon from netting and features two layers. Is best for warmer weather.
  • The High Point - made from recycled nylon from netting and features two layers. Is best for warmer weather.

"We just think it's important that people have options for good, effective, affordable masks that will provide a measurable degree of filtration that will help you the wearer, in addition to that collateral benefit of potentially helping others," said Lawson.

In a recent study by the Duke-UNC Prevention Epicenter Program for Prevention of Healthcare-Associated Infections, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the company's masks were found to be a top performer in filtration efficiency.

"During the coronavirus disease 2019 [COVID-19] pandemic, the general public has been advised to wear masks or improvised face coverings to limit transmission of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 [SARS-CoV-2]. However, there has been considerable confusion and disagreement regarding the degree to which masks protect the wearer from airborne particles," stated the study's abstract. "For this study conducted in a research laboratory between June and August 2020, 7 consumer-grade masks and 5 medical procedure mask modifications were fitted on an adult male volunteer, and FFE measurements were collected during a series of repeated movements of the torso, head, and facial muscles as outlined by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration Quantitative Fit Testing Protocol."

The results, which were published in JAMA, found that the proprietary double-layer nylon Easy Masks tested far better than any other masks in the study aside from the gold-standard N95 medical mask.

"The JAMA study showed that the fit of our mask is effective. It does a really good job of sealing itself around the wearer's face," said Lawson. "We created a mask that you're going to be able to breathe through as opposed to around, which will actually provide some level of filtration depending ultimately on whether you use an insert."

Williams said that he has a passion for helping people in the health arena and that he's enjoyed working with a great team to bring "a much needed, comfortable and effective product to market."

The cherry on top of it all is that everything is locally produced.

"We're really pleased about the creation of Easy Masks — that we were able to create it in a few weeks and set up a completely North Carolina based supply chain," said Lawson. "Everything from the knitting of the masks in High Point, to the yarns, which are sourced in North Carolina, to the aluminum for the nose bridges, which are stamped in North Carolina. Everything, with the possible exception of the plastic bags that the masks are packaged in, is coming from our state."

This article was written for our sponsor, Easy Masks.

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