Lifesaving technical textiles at forefront during pandemic

Seshadri Ramkumar

Posted October 1, 2020


By Seshadri Ramkumar


LUBBOCK, Texas – Face masks and vaccines are going to continue to be indispensable in the fight against COVID-19.


As the transmittal of the coronavirus occurs by infected persons even without symptoms, face coverings play a vital role in containing the spread.


Recently, there has been a flurry of research activities on the type of face coverings, materials, design, etc. While there is no one perfect model or type of face coverings, it is important that we use them based on the guidelines established by agencies such as the United States’ Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).


“As a survivor of the deadly coronavirus infection along with my son, I request all to wear masks and maintain at least six-feet distance in public places to avoid the virus infection,” said Amarashish Phanse of Ahmedabad, India.


I had the acquaintance with Mr. Phanse in one of my technical textiles awareness events in India over a decade ago and has maintained close connection with him to develop the field. Phanse has been in the technical textiles sector and a great supporter of my research and outreach efforts in the nonwovens and technical textiles field. It is heartening that he took time to convey the importance of safety measures in fight against the virus, amid his recovery.


It is becoming clear that even with availability of vaccine, good public health measures such as the use of face coverings may be needed.


“There is increasing evidence that masks help prevent people who have COVID-19, including those without symptoms, from spreading SARS-CoV-2 to others,” said Dr. Robert Redfield, director of CDC, in a recent testimony to a United States’ Senate panel.


Speaking from his own grueling experience in the fight against the virus, Phanse said, “Having worked with textiles and technical textiles industry closely for over a decade, I can now realize the immense contribution made by its fiber-to-fashion value chain in coming up with user-friendly and functional protective textiles.” 


The advanced textiles sector has a renewed purpose now to develop lifesaving products at a competitive price. Developed economies such as the United States have to revamp their R&D and manufacturing sectors to focus on human health and environmental aspects. Research into comfortable face masks with enhanced protection is a tall order and well worth investing in. Similarly, cost-effective, sustainable products that find applications in household items to space crafts will be needed. The Indian government has created a National Mission on Technical Textiles to grow the field. 


I have been articulating the use of natural fibers such as cotton and coarse wool in advanced products for more than two decades. In close association with people such as Phase, developed collaborative programs between India and the United States in the nonwovens and technical textiles sectors that have led to awareness creation and business tie-ups.


The current COVID-19 crisis has shined a genuine spotlight on the positive aspects of cotton as a lifesaver may open pathways towards exploring new materials for value-added applications. It has become clear that apart from functionalities, cost of products play a very vital role in the market acceptance of products.


So, examining the economic aspects of new products and market surveys to analyze the need have to be undertaken simultaneously while conducting R&D. The next phase of R&D should involve scientists, economists and marketing professionals, towards new product development such as PPE.  


Let us practice safety and wish the speedy recovery of all those who have been afflicted by the virus. Mask on and stay positive!


Dr. Seshadri Ramkumar, Ph.D., CText., FTI (U.K.), FTA (honorary), is a professor at the Nonwovens & Advanced Materials Laboratory at Texas Tech.

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