At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, consumers made a mad rush to their local hardware stores for N95 masks. Of all the common masks you can buy, N95 masks are the only ones that are actually capable of filtering out the novel coronavirus and protecting the wearer.
To this day, these masks are still in critically short supply. This is an issue for the nation’s essential healthcare workers, who need these masks to protect themselves while they treat patients who are sick with the virus. Tap or click here to see what you need to make your own mask at home.
But those days may soon be coming to an end, thanks to a radical new mask designed by engineers at MIT. The mask uses less of the precious N95 material than current designs, which means there will be plenty to go around once production can ramp up for both medical personnel and civilians. Plus, it’s completely reusable. Here’s what we know.
Better design, better mask
Engineers at MIT and Brigham and Women’s Hospital have developed a new design for face masks that work as well as an N95 respirator at filtering viral particles. These masks use the same material to do their job, but compared to existing N95 masks, they use only a fraction of the compound.
Dubbed the iMASC, which stands for Injection Molded Autoclavable, Scalable, Conformable, this headgear relies on two interchangeable pads of N95 material for particle filtration. The rest of the face is sealed from the outside air using injection molded silicone, which can be easily sterilized and cleaned for reuse.
A single mask can be worn time and time again so long as the filters are changed regularly, and early adopters say they’re far more comfortable than traditional N95 masks. Better yet, these masks require much less N95 material to create, which cuts the cost of production significantly.
According to CNBC News, researchers behind the iMASC project say it could cost as low as $15 per unit! It’s a bit more expensive than a traditional N95 mask up front, but considering that you can wear the headgear again and again compared to N95 masks, the entire thing pays for itself in the end.
Where can I get this new mask?
As of now, the iMASC is still in the prototype stage, and no plans for mass production have been truly formalized just yet. The goal, according to the researchers, is to make the masks widely available for healthcare workers and the general public alike.
But right now, the next stages are planning manufacturing and logistics to meet demand, as well as sourcing the necessary materials. Still, the fact that the prototype shows so much promise right off the bat is encouraging.
Whether or not ordinary people will feel comfortable wearing the iMASC in public is another question. Compared to cloth, medical and N95 masks, the iMASC’s transparent design lets you see the mouth and lips of the person wearing it. This may provide a psychological benefit to people who find masks intimidating.
But you can bet that once this baby is available for pre-order, it’s going to be a big seller. To be honest, many could think it’s cool looking and the viral protection is just icing on the cake.
The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have regarding a medical condition, advice, or health objectives.