Comfortable, effective and reusable: scientists have created a new type of face masks
At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, a shortage of N95 respirator masks was putting the health workers and frontline workers who needed them most at risk. Writes about it CNBC.
Life-saving workers who relied on N95 masks had no choice but to wear what was provided for several weeks. Some have begun to disinfect masks for reuse.
Now that the pandemic is gaining momentum again and hospitals are overwhelmed again, N95 respirators are again in short supply.
But engineers and researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (WITH) created a new type of face mask that could change the course of events. In the laboratory, the prototype worked in the same way as the N95 respirator in filtering out virus-containing particles.
While the N95 masks are made entirely of a special material capable of filtering out droplets and liquids that may contain the COVID-19 virus, the new MIT mask is made of silicone, with slots for the two small filters used in the N95. This means the masks themselves can be quickly and easily sterilized and reused, although the small filters have to be discarded and each mask requires significantly less material than the N95.
Called iMASC, this design can help address shortages.
The researchers said the iMASC can be sterilized in a number of different ways without affecting its effectiveness. For example, the researchers were able to use a steam sterilizer for a mask, put it in the oven, soak it in bleach and alcohol. Treating used N95 masks with disinfectants containing hydrogen peroxide requires special equipment to neutralize any viruses and this takes several days. In addition, masks can only be worn for one day and a maximum of 20 times.
The iMASC researchers “wanted to maximize the reusability of the mask,” Giovanni Traverso, assistant professor of mechanical engineering at MIT, said in a press release.
Adam Wentworth, a research engineer and researcher at the Koch Institute, said the new mask could be more environmentally friendly with less disposable material, which minimizes waste.
So far, masks have proven to be effective and comfortable.
A group of 24 health workers (including nurses, doctors and technicians) wore new masks and underwent tests for ease of breathing and speaking, head and body movements, and facial expressions. Participants said the mask fits well and is very comfortable. Most importantly, it successfully filtered the sugar solution in the air, which was used to simulate airborne aerosol droplets.
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