It’s been a tough day in Großröhrsdorf. “I’ve never seen anything like it,” says Grit Hartmann. “We are currently receiving orders that have not been received here in the past 30 years.” Hartmann is the managing director of Kunath Textilien, which with around 60 employees manufactures and sells workwear for medical and nursing staff, among others.
Traditionally, the offer also included fabric mouth and nose protection. He is usually used by veterinarians, for example, says Hartmann. But what is normal in times of the corona crisis? Kunath Textiles claims that it has received orders for 100,000 of the simple masks. Clinics are preferred to be supplied. Since last week, orders have had to be rejected, even though the company’s retirees have even been reactivated for production.
Other companies in the textile industry are now also starting to manufacture mouth and nose protectors, which are also referred to as surgical masks. For example, there is the laundry company Mey in the Swabian Albstadt. Also the mattress manufacturer Breckle in Weida, eastern Thuringia, 400,000 breathing masks are currently manufactured, which, according to the company, are to be used in public facilities such as hospitals. At the same time, the company says private individuals should refrain from making calls. The current order is fully utilized.
The textile company Eterna, in turn, also manufactures breathing masks at its plant in Banovce, Slovakia, with short-term output increases to 25,000 per day. However, the masks are currently not allowed to be exported and must be used in Slovakia.
Even the automotive supplier ZF Friedrichshafen, known to most people for its gearboxes, has meanwhile become a manufacturer of breathing masks. The company claims to have been manufacturing around 90,000 to 100,000 pieces a day in a plant in China for around two months. According to company spokesman Thomas Wenzel, they are used for their own employees. “We provide what we don’t need ourselves to society in China,” says Wenzel. An export of the masks to Germany is not planned.
Entrepreneur Wolfang Grupp from the Swabian town of Burladingen with his company Trigema caused the greatest sensation among the new mask manufacturers. “It is crazy what is going on at the moment,” said Grupp in an interview with SPIEGEL. “So far we have accepted orders for 300,000 masks and confirmed that we will schedule them. We hope that we will have a weekly production of 100,000 masks next week.”
The company has all the necessary resources for the production of masks from a cotton-polyester mixture, said Grupp. You only have to buy the plastic-coated wire for the nose piece as well as the bands or rubbers for the fastening. “We initially ordered the wire for a million masks. But the supplier promised us that we could have more if necessary.”
For the textile entrepreneurs, mask production is an attractive business area in the crisis. This way they can avoid short-time work for the seamstresses. But who could actually use the mouth and nose protectors made of Trigema and Co.? Who would they bring a health advantage in the corona crisis? “The masks are intended, for example, for nurses, employees and so on who come into contact with other people,” says company boss Grupp. The point is that if you carry the virus in yourself without knowing it, you won’t infect others with it. “You don’t protect yourself with the mask, you protect yourself from the person.”
The company’s online shop for mouth and nose protection currently states: “No certification – not medically or otherwise tested”. However, Trigema explains that the model is currently being tested in the Hohenstein test laboratory. This signaled that the mask should meet the EN-14683 standard – and could then be marketed as a medical device. Hygiene experts are skeptical: The certification company cannot test the effectiveness of the retention of corona viruses, they say.
“May help against cold or sun, but not against viruses”
A mouth and nose protector like Trigema and the other textile companies are now producing it, above all prevents droplets of saliva or mucus from infected people from getting into the air – provided they are worn close to the face. However, smaller particles do not stop them. So-called FFP masks (“filtering face piece”) of the classification FFP2 and FFP3 would be necessary. (Read more about the sense and nonsense of breathing masks here.)
Traditional manufacturers of protective masks made from nonwoven fibers – and not from textiles – therefore also react with massive criticism: “Textile masks such as those from Trigema products or from other textile manufacturers have no filter effect to protect against bacteria or viruses, and especially not against the corona virus Sars CoV-2, “explains Dach, a company from Rastatt in Baden, Germany, which it claims to be the market leader in Germany for respiratory masks.
Dach is currently working on a new production line in Rastatt, with which one wants to produce “far more than a million masks every day”. If everything goes according to plan, it should start in May.
The masks of the textile companies are “not only completely unsuitable but also dangerous for use in hospitals,” growls at Dach. They are also not suitable for preventing or even preventing the transmission of the virus, for example in old people’s homes, authorities or companies. “The heart of a respirator mask is the filter,” says company owner Ming Gutsche in an interview with SPIEGEL. “And with the textile masks this heart is missing.” It’s like a car without an engine. “Textile masks, according to Gutsche,” might help against the cold or the sun, but not against viruses “.
“The paper mask market is empty”
However, many hospitals are also urgently dependent on simple surgical masks, that much is clear. “The market for paper masks is empty,” says infectiologist Bernd Salzberger from the University Hospital Regensburg, chairman of the German Society for Infectious Diseases. On the one hand, the high consumption in China is responsible, on the other hand, the Asian factories are currently not supplying any supplies. He considers fabric masks to be quite interesting, at least for some applications: “In principle, they are also suitable for the operating room or intensive care unit,” says Salzberger. But it is also clear, says Salzberger: Cloth masks were not used for self-protection – but to shield other droplets of saliva that might be infected by the flight.
Petra Gastmeier, director of the Institute for Hygiene and Environmental Medicine at the Charité in Berlin, does not believe that staff can protect themselves with fabric masks: “For staff protection in hospitals cloth masks are no good“She says. At best, employees who work far away from patients, for example in the kitchen, might be able to carry them. And even in this case, it makes sense to place a piece of filter paper between the layers of the mask, which should be used after the respective use can be exchanged.
But even if the infected wear protection, Gastmeier sees potential dangers. “If that’s just fabric, it’s no use. Even outside the hospital, I take a critical view of the use of fabric masks,” continues the Berlin doctor. This could create a false feeling of security for the wearer: “I would be afraid that people wearing a mask might no longer comply with the ban on contact.”
Sewing instructions on the net
A mask could possibly only serve as a signal to others that the corona crisis is being taken seriously, says hygienist Gastmeier: “There is someone who is concerned. Someone who does not want to infect others and wants you to keep your distance.” Your Charité colleague, virologist Christian Drosten, sees it in the NDR interview similar: “It is a good psychological effect if these masks are available in the width.” This is the case, for example, in Asian countries, where almost everyone has to wear a mask for social reasons.
If everyone wears a mask, Drosten says, “it starts to make a lot of sense”. Then one could at least hope for a slight reduction in infections “in the close range”. At the same time, the virologist is skeptical that the socially desired wearing of masks in Germany would actually be enforceable. But: “If someone wants to sew a mask and has a good feeling in public: Yes, of course.”
You don’t have to buy a finished model from a textile company. That’s why the city of Essen has a sewing instruction put on the net for makeshift mouth-nose protection.