Image from NOVID-4me website

When the county issued a health order making masks or facial coverings mandatory to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, John Denney — owner of Arcata-based mask distributor Novid-4me — was happy to see that the county’s Joint Information Center (JIC) had included his website on the list of local retailers selling facial coverings.

“We got an incredible surge of orders,” Denney told the Outpost in a phone interview yesterday. Denney said that while he had previously been receiving somewhere around 100 daily mask orders, on Tuesday that number went up to about 600 for the Humboldt County area.

But shortly after the release went out, Denney also started receiving emails from customers confused about whether or not the masks he sells — which contain a valve — comply with the Humboldt County Health Officer’s Order.

From the order:

Note that any mask that incorporates a one-way valve (typically a raised plastic cylinder about the size of a quarter on the front or side of the mask) that is designed to facilitate easy exhaling is not a Face Covering under this Order and is not to be used to comply with this Order’s requirements.

The masks sold on NOVID-4me, which are manufactured in China, come equipped with a carbon filter which can be placed in the mask. The mask also features multiple layers of material in between the wearers mouth and the valve opening. Denney made a video showing the layers of filtration, which he emailed to the Department of Health and Human Services for clarification:

Denney forwarded the Outpost the response he received from Health Officer Dr. Teresa Frankovich saying the mask would be effective.

“I can see the model you are presenting is clearly adequate for public masking purposes and I apologize for the lack of clarity in the order,” Frankovich wrote in the email.

Dr. Frankovich went on to ask Denney’s recommendation for language on clarifying the public masking information on the county’s COVID-19 FAQ page. “I have already spoken with the folks who do our FAQ’s and I will forward them additional information you are able to provide so we can make things clear for the public,” she said in the email.

Having already distributed nearly 8,000 masks in Humboldt County, including to local retailers such as Wildberries Marketplace, Denney said he is relieved to know that the masks he sells are acceptable. He is working on contacting his customers today to let them know that he does not need to cancel their orders. Denney said he was also planning to donate masks to local homeless shelters.

If you are concerned about wearing a mask with a valve, be sure that it contains filtration between the mask wearer and the valve. If the mask does not have a filter, Denney suggests using an additional facial covering underneath. In yesterday’s video addressing media questions, Dr. Frankovich explained that the main concern is that the mask provides filtration upon exhalation and said that, in general, it is probably best not to use valved masks.

“In this instance, we’re trying to protect everyone from what we exhale, from the droplets that we spread, and so that’s why a valve mask can be a problem,” Frankovich said. “There are masks constructed with filters and things like that. But I think really the safest thing for the general public is to use the ones — masks or facial coverings — we described that aren’t valved unless you have really good specs on what your particular mask does.”