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Thanks for the reply; I too am not expert enough to quantify precisely how effective surgical masks are compared to N95s, I can only look up research articles which seem to suggest that they are roughly similar, to a first degree approximation. I wrote this post because it seemed like an easy-to-follow DIY guide to making a mask brace is a low hanging fruit idea that has obvious benefits but hasn't been widely disseminated yet.
I think the keyword is "civilian", in the sense that yes you could technically buy an N95 from the black market after sleuthing around and avoiding counterfeits, but I doubt that this is approachable for the average person. I followed your tip to just google it but every result in the first 2 pages for me was either out of stock or outdated (e.g. a blog from 2018 that hasn't been updated). This may depend on what region you live in, as availability may be more plentiful in some locales, and my SERP is different from yours.
Thanks for the link to examine.com, I like that the article is both comprehensive and nuanced.
I did the check as recommended in this infographic, which does not involve a smell test. Not sure how I would get the proper materials and setup to do a smell test at home—some smells are gasses which presumably would not be blocked by any mask? You would have to find some kind of material that generates smelly aerosols at precisely the right size.
After doing more research into this question, I think the answer is yes, this is actually a very good idea, only it's much more convenient to use a rubber mask brace instead of tape. I summarize my findings as well as present DIY instructions on how to do this at home in a new post: https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/CrikcGiaWK9CSSzrJ/i-made-an-n95-level-mask-at-home-and-you-can-too
Yes, this is the idea! My example here is a highly oversimplified description of Rollout Algorithms, a property of Monte Carlo Tree Search, which you can read more about in Chapter 8.10 in the book.