Edmonton Journal: U of A researcher developing surgical mask to keep coronavirus at bay

A new surgical mask designed by an Edmonton researcher could help stem the ongoing coronavirus outbreak as the public continues to stockpile supplies.

The mask created by Hyo-Jick Choi, a biomedical engineer at the University of Alberta, will kill viruses on contact.

Surgical masks are among the items people are stockpiling, leading to stores running low or out of supply since the COVID-19 outbreak has spread globally.

But Choi said the masks that are currently on the market can actually help spread viruses. Depending on the type of mask, they may not filter out viruses spread through smaller aerosols.

“Humans have a tendency to touch their face every few minutes and improper handling or touching the mask can cause a contact transmission and secondary infection,” said Choi.

“When you touch the mask surface, basically our hands will be contaminated and when you touch other door knobs or other people, there’s a high chance for other people to be infected.”

A virus can currently remain alive on the surface of a mask from anywhere between a few hours to a week. Choi’s mask is coated in a substance that helps break up the virus, killing it within a half-hour of contact. Choi said testing on early prototypes of his mask have so far been successful.

“We have tested them using different types of the influenza virus,” said Choi. “Regardless of the type of virus and strains, they were all destroyed.”

Choi said he hopes his research, which is funded through the university, the national not-for-profit Mitacs and the National Sciences and Engineer Research Council (NSERC), could lead to masks being on the market within two years, but that timeline could move up to 12 months if everything goes well.

Until then, Choi said N95 respirators filter out more airborne substances than other surgical masks. He also said masks should only be used once and they should be replaced every few hours. People should use the rubber ear bands when putting on or removing a mask and not touch the surface of the mask.

Dr. Deena Hinshaw, the province’s chief medical officer, said there were three more cases of COVID-19 identified within the province Monday. There are now a total of seven cases in the province, all being linked to people who have recently travelled.

The federal government announced last week it is giving $27 million to coronavirus related research. More than $2 million went to research at the University of Alberta.

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