MIT Researchers Design A New Reusable Face Mask

In a new development, scientists from Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston have developed a silicone mask that can be reused without fear of contamination. These findings were shared in a study in The British Medical Journal (BMJ).

The mask, called the iMASC, is still a prototype and scientists still have to figure out how effectively the mask catches viral particles. The mask provides a level of protection that is equal to N95 respirator masks and can be a key to addressing the issues of shortages regarding personal protective equipment in United States.

The mask is made in the shape of N95 masks and also uses a N956 filter along with a body made out of silicone rubber that can be sterilized after every use. The filters that it uses are also replaceable after every use.

Source: BMJ

Concerned about the growing PPE shortages, the researchers wanted to design a mask that can be reused with ease and can address this “critical issue” of the hour.

They started off with a 3D printed N95-style mas, which they later tested among nurses and physicians, who scored the mask for breathability, fit and ease of filter replacement.

Most of the subjects in the study felt that the mask was no different than the typical N95 mask and some even felt that it was better to use.

Right now, the depleting PPE supplies have caused many healthcare workers to reuse contaminated equipment and masks. Though N95 masks offer the best protection against coronavirus and can catch 95 percent of virus particles, they are not reusable or can be sterilized again again.

But the shortages have led the healthcare workers to a point where they have too reuse mask, gloves, scrubs and even other PPEs. This can expose these frontline workers and the patients they come into contact with to coronavirus.

This has led to renewed efforts to make new PPE models and scale of production of old ones by the researchers. The researcher who invented the N95 mask’ filtering fabric has also come out of retirement to see what sterilization methods are effective. Several other scientists came out with ways to sterilize N95 masks by using chemicals and microwaves, up to 20 times without damaging them.

The researchers from MIT also looked into different sterilization methods for this new silicone mask. They cleaned the masks by running them through an autoclave (steam sterilizer), putting them in an oven, and soaking them in both bleach and isopropyl alcohol. The mask was not damaged by any of these tests.

The team is now looking into making a new version of the mask that can efficiently filter viral particles.

Depleting Stocks

Essential workers and healthcare personnel are urging governments both at state and federal level to provide them with more PPE as the present stock plummets.

Nurses say they are reusing N95 masks for days and even weeks at a time. Doctors say they can’t reopen offices because they lack personal protective equipment.

During the initial shortages, many healthcare workers had to reuse PPEs. The first emergency-room doctor to die from the coronavirus said that he got sick because he had to reuse the same masks for four days straight.

The US has then ramped up production of PPE through the Defense Production Act, in April because of the initial shortages of equipment like ventilators, masks, and goggles.

But it seems like previous events will happen once again as US could be heading towards PPE shortages again. Health and Human Services Department records show that the agencies in charge of distributing these supplies have vastly depleted stocks, that too at a point when US coronavirus cases have reached record levels and the public health officials are warning of a second wave of infections in the fall.

The records show that both the Strategic National Stockpile, a national stockpile of equipment for public-health emergencies, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) have 900,000 gloves left in reserve after having shipped 82.7 million of them to states and other health authorities.

That 82.7 million represents jut 30% of the figure requested by authorities across the country. Recently, it was also reported that only half of the face masks that state and local governments ordered will be delivered this year.

State officials are also saying that they have difficulty getting hold of PPEs both from United States and from international suppliers. Public health officials are warning that this issue can become even worse as the infection rates in the country climb.

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