Science & Technology

New, reusable masks may help meet COVID-19 demand

The silicone rubber new masks can be sterilised for repeated use and have an N95 filter

 
By DTE Staff
Last Updated: Thursday 16 July 2020

Researchers have claimed that a newly designed new mask can effectively filter out unwanted particles as well as be easily reusable.

These masks, made of durable silicone rubber, can be manufactured using injection moulding. They will also use N95 filters but at a relatively lower level than traditional masks.

N95 respiratory protective devices are designed to fit closely on the user’s face fit effectively filter out airborne particles. They have been in much demand with healtcare workers as well as others during the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic. Supply, of course, has been strained.

The new masks, which can be sterilised for repeated use, has been designed by researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Boston, United States.

Health workers would ideally use new masks with every new patient; limited supply, however, forces them to avoid doing so and wear a mask longer than it is supposed to be.

“One of the key matters we diagnosed early … we needed to honestly limit ourselves to methods that would scale,” Giovanni Traverso, assistant professor of mechanical engineering at MIT and a gastroenterologist at the hospital, said.

“We also desired to maximise the reusability of the system, and we wanted systems that might be sterilized in many one-of-a-kind ways,” he added.

The researchers recruited some 20 fitness care employees from hospital, each of whom carried out a standard suit check required for N95 masks. They put on the masks and performed a series of tasks to check if the mask remained in place.

All 20 reported that they could insert and remove the N95 filter. Between the two types of masks, they either indicated no preference or chose the newly designed over N95 and rated it higher for fit and breathability.

“We recognise that COVID is simply not going away until a vaccine is prevalent. I assume there’s continually going to be a need for masks, whether it be in the health care setting or the well-known public,” said James Byrne, lead author of a paper on the research and a radiation oncologist at the hospital.

The team tested different sterilisation methods on the silicone masks, including jogging them via a steam steriliser, placing them in an oven, and soaking them in bleach and isopropyl alcohol. The material remained undamaged, the researchers claimed.

The research was funded by the Prostate Cancer Foundation, the MIT Department of Mechanical Engineering, Brigham and Women’s Hospital Boston, the National Institutes of Health, E-Ink Corporation, Gilead Sciences, Philips Biosensing, and the Hans and Mavis Lopater Psychosocial Foundation. 

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