Since the start of the pandemic doctors are telling people to adjust to the new normal which includes wearing masks, washing hands for 20 seconds, and using sanitizers. But as wearing masks became a requirement its supply went short and prices went up. Moreover, many people started reusing the masks although they were required to be thrown off after a single-use. But researchers and engineers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Brigham and Women’s Hospital have created a new type of face mask that can be sterilized for reuse.
The new type of face mask known as Injection Molded Autoclavable, Scalable, Conformable (IMASC) system is a prototype that worked as well as an N95 mask at filtering out particles containing the virus. The early results from feasibility and modeling for fit testing suggested that the IMASC system is capable of fitting faces of different shapes and sizes and can be sterilized for multiple uses.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, the frontline workers were presented with a dire situation of the shortage of N95 masks as they needed them the most. The healthcare workers were left with no choice but to wear the disposable masks for weeks and some started disinfecting them for reuse.
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While N95 masks are entirely made out of a special material that screens out airborne fluids and droplets that may contain the virus the new mask is made out of silicone with two small slots for disposable disks made out of that N95 material serving as filters. It means that the silicon material in the mask can be easily sterilized for reuse and while the small filter disks need to be thrown out, the masks require much less of the N95 material.
There are few different ways in which the new type of face mask can be sterilized without sacrificing the effectiveness of the mask, the researchers wrote a paper that is published in the British Medical Journal Open. The researchers were able to sterilize the mask by putting it in an oven, running them through an autoclave, and soaking them in rubbing alcohol and bleach.
Giovanni Traverso who is a gastroenterologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and an assistant professor at MIT said that the researchers wanted to maximize the reusability of the IMASC system. The new type of face mask uses less disposable material which is responsible for much less waste than tossing a whole mask which makes the mask more environmental-friendly.
The researchers recruited around 20 health care workers to test the comfort of the masks and all of the participants had to perform the fit test required by Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) for N95 masks. During the test, the participants had to put the mask on and perform some movements to check if the mask stays in its place. Also, a nebulized solution is sprayed in the place to see if the participants can smell or taste it. All the participants passed the test and were successfully able to remove and insert the N95 filter.
When the participants were asked about which mask they prefer between an N95 mask or the new mask, most either preferred the new mask or had no preference. They also give a high rating to the new mask as they thought that it was fit and there was no difficulty in breathing while wearing it.