This New Face Mask Is As Effective As an N95

The silicon-based pieces of PPE from MIT are also incredibly easy to sanitize and reuse.

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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has recommended wearing a cloth face covering since April. And even though cloth masks can help slow the spread of the coronavirus, the CDC has also repeatedly told citizens to hold off on buying up medical-grade N95 surgical masks so those on the frontlines can have access to them. But now, there's a new face mask that's as effective as an N95, which can help relieve supply issues while keeping wearers just as safe, CNBC reports.

The updated PPE, which was developed by engineers and researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, are silicon-based masks called Injection Molded Autoclavable, Scalable, Conformable—or iMASC, for short. The easily-sanitized devices use small filtration holes covered with N95 fabric, drastically reducing the amount of material needed to provide protection.

closeup of respirator on NIOSH certified dusk N95 mask
Lyroky / Alamy Stock Photo

Since they can also be safely cleaned and reused, these masks could prevent healthcare workers from having to reuse the same N95 mask—which can only be sanitized once a day and 20 times overall before becoming ineffective. In a statement, Giovanni Traverso, PhD, an MIT assistant professor of mechanical engineering who helped create the iMASC, said that the engineers "wanted to maximize the reusability of the system, and we wanted systems that could be sterilized in many different ways."

On top of their easy reusability and sanitization, iMASCs will only cost hospitals $15, while disposable N95s go for anywhere between $2.80 and $6.95 apiece for very few uses.

Researchers also point out that the updated masks carry out their intended purpose incredibly well, passing a "fit test" that replicated respiratory particles floating in the air. Many of the product's 20 study subjects also remarked that the mask was a considerable improvement on breathability and comfortability. Sixty percent of subjects said they'd be willing to wear the iMASC instead of a surgical mask and 60 percent also said they had no preference between the iMASC and an N95.

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Next, the team behind the iMASC is looking for approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).

Initially, the masks will be made available to healthcare workers, CNBC reports. But researchers say that eventual distribution to the general public is not out of the question. And for more on what your PPE does for you, check out Face Masks Protect You More From COVID Than You Thought, Doctors Say.

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Zachary Mack
Zachary covers beer, wine, food, spirits, and travel. He's the owner of Alphabet City Beer Co. in New York City and is a Certified Cicerone. Read more
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