Researchers at MIT and Brigham and Women’s Hospital have created a face mask with an N95 exhalation valve that's reusable. And it's set to be a game-changer amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Constructed out of silicone, the iMASC has a pair of slots to hold N95 filters that can filter out fluids and airborne droplets. As such, the mask is nearly completely reusable. Only the filters need to be removed and replaced after the mask has been worn, while the rest of it can be disinfected and worn again with new filters.
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And to make things even easier, there’s no need to sterilise the masks with specialist equipment, as has been the case with N95 masks. Rather, the iMASC - which stands for Injection Molded Autoclavable, Scalable, Conformable - can simply be sterilized using steam, a bath in bleach or rubbing alcohol, or popped into an oven at a temperature that will kill bacteria and viruses.
As such, the iMASC could really shake up how N95 masks are used. For starters, given most of the iMASC is reusable it would cut down on the environmental impact of wearing masks, especially the disposable ones.
But more importantly, the reusable nature of the iMASC means the demand for N95 masks could be better managed. When the coronavirus pandemic hit the U.S. the demand for N95 masks meant a lot of healthcare workers were left short of fresh disposable masks, with many forced to disinfect and reuse masks that there meant to be disposed of once they been used and sterilized a certain amount of times.
The iMASC could solve this problem, especially if infections of COVID-19 spike again. Not only would it give healthcare workers an N95 mask that's safe and practical to reuse, but it could also be used by the general public, meaning they won’t then eat into the supply of N95 masks that healthcare workers need.
Furthermore, at a price of £15 per mask for hospitals, the iMASC presents a more overall affordable replacement for disposable N95 masks that cost between $2.80 and $6.95 per mask, reported CNBC.
But before this can happen, more tests are needed to ensure the iMASC is fit for widespread use.
The iMASC also needs to be approved by the Food and Drug Administration and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. But once that step is complete and manufacturing is ready to produce the iMASC at scale, then it could change the face of mask wearing in the U.S. and beyond.