French weapons agency tests key virus defense system

International

Technician of the French General Armament Directorate, DGA, specialized in research of Bacteriological Chemical and Nuclear military protection gear analyze public masks in their lab at Vert Le Petit, south of Paris, Wednesday, May 6, 2020 as a nationwide confinement continues to counter the COVID-19. The DGA is responsible for giving official stamps of approval for masks being piloted by French companies, vital equipment that will help prevent dissemination and transmission of coronavirus. The DGA approval is not legally obligatory for masks to be sold on French soil. (AP Photo/Francois Mori)

VERS-LE-PETIT, France (AP) — In normal times, France’s state Defense Procurement Agency would be busy shopping weapons systems for France’s military. During the coronavirus pandemic, its brief has been expanded to include a smaller-scale but equally important task: Testing face masks.

The agency known by its French acronym DGA currently tests around 80 masks a day, which are sent in by French companies hoping to receive its official stamp of approval — even though that’s not a legal prerequisite for the masks to be sold.

“What the DGA tests show is a guarantee on a quality of filtration of the masks against the fine particles example of small droplets which are not visible to the naked eye,” said Brigadier General Raymond Levet.

“(We can) prove that the fabric has the right properties for filtering particles,” he added during an interview Wednesday with The Associated Press that was granted rare access to the agency in the small town of Vers-le-Petit in the Essonne region, just south of Paris.

The first stage of the testing is on a mannequin, where experts check whether it fits correctly around the face and nose. At a second stage, a machine blasts air at the mask to see how good its level of filtration is.

The material, that is usually cotton, is then passed into a machine that shoots pulverized corn to see how fine particles enter the mask. A 70%-90% particle filtration is what the DGA has deemed the minimum acceptable standard.

The DGA says that around a fifth of masks submitted for testing make the grade for protection against the transmission and dissemination of COVID-19.

So far, 3,600 masks have been tested.

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