Medical grade N95 respirators filter 95% of particles. Unlike loose-fitting surgical masks that act more like a shield against contaminants, N95 masks fit tight on the face, sealing off the nose and mouth.
The US, now the most infected country in the world, dealt with its shortage of N95 respirators by restricting one of its primary manufacturers 3M from exporting masks outside the US. The Trump administration has now eased those restrictions.
To meet the urgent need, many companies are shifting production gears. Foxconn which typically produces Apple iPhones said in early February it would make two million masks a day by the end of the month, while car manufacturers like Fiat are pledging to make one million masks a month. Japanese electronics manufacturer Sharp has also started producing face masks.
Phone case manufacturers are now following suit. California-based case maker Nomad started taking orders last month. Each of its masks are currently priced at $0.40, covering manufacturing costs only. The company says any additional profits will go to Covid-19 relief.
Similarly, Casetify also announced it is working with manufacturing partners and "diverting resources to create FDA-approved surgical masks". It has donated 10,000 masks to Direct Relief so far and will donate a mask with every purchase of its Ultra Impact phone case (£40/US$45).
Casetify released a UV phone sanitizer as well which its selling for £100/US$120. All proceeds go to the charity GlobalGiving to support coronavirus relief.
Neither companies are producing N95 respirators however, which as NPR explains are difficult to make due to the highly specialized equipment and materials needed. Casetify and Nomad are both producing disposable 3-layer surgical masks instead.
While N95 respirators are the highest in demand for medical personnel, according to Premier Inc's March 2020 survey of hospital requirements, surgical masks are third, after hand sanitizer.
The report stated that 56% of respondents had more than 1,000 surgical masks available, but a quarter of those respondents said that amount is what's consumed in a day.
Nomad manufactures its accessories in China and ships from its Hong Kong warehouses to over a hundred countries, which is what allowed it to take advantage of its supply chains. "We believe that we can help because we are in a unique position as an agile eCommerce business that has deep supply chain relationships in Asia and a global shipping operation unencumbered by the current outbreak,” said its founders Noah Dentzel and Brian Hahn in a joint statement.
“As such, we’ve been able to work with our manufacturing partners that have the capability to make PPE masks but lie outside the conventional medical supply chain. Our phone case supplier has already switched from making bags and wallets to surgical masks for the Chinese medical system. But, as the disease slows in China, they now have excess capacity and a desire to help others who may be in short supply."
It remains to be seen if other phone case manufacturers will also start producing medical equipment. Mobile tech industries took one of the strongest blows when the coronavirus overtook China earlier this year, following factory closures, launch disruptions and trade show cancellations.