Harvey County gets donation of salt-treated masks to help with COVID-19

By Adam Strunk 

Hyatt Life Sciences, a Sterling business that makes dietary and nutritional supplements, donated more than 1,000 reusable masks in the region Thursday, with 100 going to Harvey County.

According to the company’s release, Gene Zaid, founder and chief scientific officer, and Jason West, chief executive officer, of Hyatt Life Sciences based out of Sterling, Kan., met with Dan Bronson, the assistant administrator for Harvey County on Thursday afternoon to provide the county with much-needed masks for the first responders in Harvey County. Bronson stated that the donation was the first large donation to Harvey County from the business community.

“This COVID-19 crisis has caused us to look at finding other ways to help and address what’s going on in the health care community,” West said in a later interview.

He said the masks were meant to go to first responders in Harvey County.

“Those guys are working hard to protect everyone,” West said. “We wanted to do something to protect them.”

The masks are a bit different then conventional surgical masks, which are in short supply nation wide during the COVID-19 outbreak.

Instead of paper material, they’re fabric that has been dipped and treated in a salt brine solution. Canadian researchers at the University of Alberta found that salt coating on fabric masks can neutralize viral particles within five minutes of contact.

Basically, droplets hit the mask, the moisture evaporates, and small amounts of salt recrystallize, damaging the virus that remains.

“The idea behind these masks and the spirit they are made is that some protection is better with none,” West said. “Our goal is to protect the first responders and health care communities since they are running out of PPE [personal protective equipment] so quickly. If we can help alleviate that from happening, we sure want to […] A lot of people are using the masks over existing N-95 masks to extend the masks’ lifespan. ”

Zaid stated that he had an idea for a mask after reading an article from a biomedical engineer and was put into contact with Trey McPherson at Hubco, a local Hutchinson company that manufactures textile bags.

Hubco made the masks and sold them to Hyatt Life Sciences at cost. The Hyatt Company contacted Evan Moody at Cargill Salt and received brine to treat the masks. The masks are designed to be reusable and can be washed at home, and the brine solution is then reapplied. Brad Prior and Fee Insurance of Hutchinson has also helped offset the cost of the process.

“This has been a community effort here,” West said. Without their help, this would not have happened or happened nearly as quickly.”

The masks contain instructions on how to wash and retreat them by spraying more brine solution (one cup salt, one quart water) on them. Masks can be washed between uses in hot water and soap in the laundry.

West said the effort represents a start for the Hyatt company.
He said the company is ramping up efforts to begin producing hand sanitizer to supply to area health care providers.

“Our background is in chemical manufacturing. We understanding the chemistry very well,” he said. “We think we’re well suited to step in and help. Already we’re getting calls from all over the country to do this, as well.  If we can help out, we will.”


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