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Even though face masks are selling out everywhere, an Albertan scientist and his team aren’t convinced that masks help. They may even be doing more harm than good. Assistant Professor Hyo-Jick Choi and his team at the University of Alberta are working on face masks that kill coronavirus instead of spreading it.
The team believes they will be market-ready in 12 to 18 months.
What makes them special is that they make use of a salt coating that can be applied to masks or respirators. Tests show the coating efficiently killing three different types of viruses, according to a release shared with Narcity.
However, Choi confirmed to Narcity that they haven’t tested them on the novel coronavirus itself yet.
“The novel coronavirus is obviously hard to obtain right now,” he admitted. “We’ll test it if we can get it.”
In the release sent to Narcity, Choi confirmed that current face masks are “limited” when it comes to preventing spread of the novel coronavirus, and could even spread disease if handled poorly.
Despite this, you’ll find that they’re still selling out in stores nationwide.
“Surgical masks and respirators are currently the best defense system we have for personal protection,” stated the release, “but the general public needs to be educated on their proper use and their limitations.”
While typical face masks are effective at catching larger respiratory droplets, the release argues that the virus typically spreads through smaller particles that are too small for them to catch.
Plus, masks and respirators are usually unable to kill the virus. Instead, the new coronavirus sits on the surface and can stay there for up to a week and even contaminate other things it touches.
Wearing jugs on our heads is also an ineffective strategy, but this new product that could actually kill it might be a better solution.
The solution, according to Choi and his team, is a thin salt layer.
On contact with water droplets, the salt is able to absorb into the moisture.
Then, when the water evaporates, the salt dries up into jagged spikes, piercing the membrane and quickly killing it.
“The virus on the surface of a coated contaminated mask is inactive within five minutes and completely destroyed within 30 minutes,” said Choi in the release, referring to the three strains his lab tested.
“Because the novel coronavirus has a similar morphology to the viruses we tested, we believe it’ll work,” he said to Narcity.
For the time being, however, Choi is asking face mask users to be mindful of their usage.
He says never to touch the part that goes on your face and only to hold them by their ear straps.
Users should always wash their hands after handling a mask and be careful where they store it. For example, the release states to never remove it and store it in a pocket or elsewhere before putting it on again.
They should be held as close to the skin as possible, with the white side facing out. Finally, users should always inspect them for holes or tears before use.
Choi’s lab is being funded by Mitacs, a Canadian nonprofit that works with hundreds of organizations and universities to “foster growth and innovation in Canada.”
“I’d like to thank Mitacs for all their help so far,” said Choi to Narcity. “We couldn’t have done this without all the support we’ve gotten.”
Ilaria Rubino is a Ph.D. student who has been working on salt-coated masks since 2015, and is assisting Choi on the project.
“Our technology will contribute to global health by improving infection prevention of pandemic and epidemic diseases,” Rubino declared in the release.
Mitacs has also helped with the SARS outbreak of 2003, and have invested millions into research internships in universities, among other projects.