Hamilton County halts distribtion of 'sock masks' over chemical coating

Health department asks residents to stop wearing the masks, which came from the state

Staff photo by Troy Stolt / Arthur Rounsaville leans against a support beam at the entrance of Mary Walker Towers after being tested for the coronavirus on Monday, May 18, 2020 in Chattanooga, Tenn. The mask he's wearing is one of those distributed by the state and made by Renfro.

The Hamilton County Health Department will no longer distribute the cloth face masks made by a Cleveland, Tennessee, company and is asking the public to no longer wear them.

In a statement released Saturday, the health department said the masks are coated with Silvadur, an anti-microbial substance commonly applied to fabrics to reduce odor causing bacterial growth.

"Only trace amounts of Silvadur are applied to the fabric, and that amount will continually diminish with each wash," the department said in its statement.

Earlier this month, Tennessee got its first round of 5 million face masks but even then, some people were questioning whether the material is up to snuff.

Gov. Bill Lee's Unified Command group purchased the masks from Renfro Corp., a Mount Airy, N.C. global designer and distributor of legwear products with a manufacturing and distribution facility in Cleveland, Tennessee. The company's representatives were not available on Saturday on account of being closed for the weekend.

The Hamilton County Health Department received 14,760 free face coverings from the governor's group on on May 6, according to a health department spokesman. An estimated 10,000 of the masks had been sent to various locations for distribution two days later.

The masks are based on the design of the Nightingale mask, recently created in Winston-Salem, N.C., by a team of researchers and medical experts at Wake Forest Baptist Health.

Unlike the Nightingale, which retails online for $180 for a pack of 24 ($7.50 each), Tennessee's face mask cost the state $1.65 each, according to spokesman Dean Flener. That's because while the design is the same, the material is different.

"Until more data is made available about the application of Silvadur to these masks, the public is asked to refrain from using and distributing the masks," Hamilton County's health department continued in its statement.

Contact Patrick Filbin at pfilbin@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6476. Follow him on Twitter @PatrickFilbin.