COVID19 update, August 13, 2020: first impressions of Sonovia and Argaman (BioBlocX) masks

(0) Commonalities: both masks shipped via DHL from Israel. As I live in Israel myself, mine were shipped within a day of ordering and appeared the next day.

Both types are intended for moderate-term reuse: they can be washed in warm water and some dishwashing soap (once a week, or after wearing it in a dodgy setting), and are both supposed to last at least a year.

Disclaimer: I bought both mask types at retail price and was not offered any incentives by either manufacturer.

(1) OK, Sonovia first. This mask is based around two layers of a cotton-like fabric into which nanopores have been sonicated, then nanoparticles of zinc oxide deposited into them. The fabric was originally developed for other purposes (preventing the spread of ‘hospital bugs’ in a healthcare settings), then repurposed for COVID19 prevention.

Sonovia masks come in at least 3 sizes: children’s, female, and male. Mrs. Arbel got a perfect fit with the female mask, I got a decent fit with the (larger) male version. The ear loops are adjustable for better fit. The specimens I reviewed did not come with a nose clip, which is a cause for ‘leaks’ unless the mask fits like a globe: apparently, healthcare vlogger “Sandy” was sent a beta of a newer version in which a pliable nose clip is embedded in the fabric.

The Sonovia is quite comfortable to wear even during exertions, much more so than the N95 masks I normally would wear outside the house or my office at work. I wore it on several long power walks and while shlepping groceries on foot from a supermarket a fair distance away (in our fairly hot climate): I wasn’t nearly as winded as when wearing my usual N95.

The price is a bit steep ($65 including free shipping via DHL), but drops significantly when ordered in quantities.

(2) Argaman BioBlocX is a somewhat different kettle of fish. This is a 5-layer fabric mask: the outermost layers on both sides are hypoallergenic CottonX treated cotton, the layers below that a more aggressive Argaman Accelerated Copper layer, and the middle layer a Respilon nanofiber filter membrane.

The adult size accommodates both male and female faces. It comes not with ear loops but with adjustable head straps, and a nose clip is embedded in the top. With a little practice, it is possible to get a decent seal.

The fabric was comfortable enough that I could wear it through a 2-hour in-person meeting I could not avoid. (I have pretty sensitive skin.)

That said, I definitely would prefer not to wear this one during physical exercise or physically taxing work: breathing felt about as hampered as when wearing an N95 without an exit valve — not because of a “CO2 buildup” as somebody who ought to know better claimed [a CO2 molecule is about 0.23 nm long], but simply because more pressure is required to exhale and inhale.

But there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch: having 5 layers, including a nanopore layer, to breathe through simply cannot be as unrestricted as two layers of treated cotton.

Incidentally, one could probably wear this one during home improvement or other DIY projects where a mask against particulate matter would normally be indicated — and they would likely be as effective as an N95 for that, albeit more reusable. (There’s a reason the only places I’d seen N95 masks available for purchase before the pandemic were home improvement stores.)

(3) Bottom line?

We will probably continue to wear our Sonovias as our main day-to-day mask and keep the Argamans on hand for higher-risk environments (e.g., crowded stores if we cannot visit them during off-peak hours, HMO polyclinics, in-person meetings with people not in our “bubble”).

If you do not care to plunk down money for both, but already have N95 masks on hand, one alternative could be to wear the Sonovia as the main mask and place an N95 over it when some extra protection seems indicated.

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