Even though face masks are selling out everywhere, there’s an Albertan scientist and his team that aren’t convinced that masks help. They may even be doing more harm. 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 the facemasks will be market-ready in 12 to 18 months.
These facemasks make use of a salt coating that can be applied to masks or ventilators. Tests show the coating efficiently killing three different types of viruses, according to a release shared with Narcity.
However, Choi said to Narcity that they haven’t tested the masks on actual novel coronavirus yet.
“The novel coronavirus is obviously hard to obtain right now,” he said. “We’ll test it if we can get it.”
In the release sent to Narcity, Choi confirmed that current facemasks are “limited” when it comes to preventing spread of the novel coronavirus, and could even spread disease if handled poorly.
Despite this, face masks are still selling out in stores nationwide.
“Surgical masks and respirators are currently the best defense system we have for personal protection,” he said in the release, “but the general public needs to be educated on their proper use and their limitations.”
While effective at catching larger droplets filled with the coronavirus, the release states that the virus typically spreads through aerosols. These are too small for typical face masks to catch.
Plus, most masks and respirators are unable to kill the virus. Instead, the new coronavirus sits on the face mask and it can stay there for up to a week and even contaminate other surfaces it touches.
Wearing jugs on our heads is also an ineffective strategy, but this new mask that can kill coronavirus could 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 virus 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 viruses 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 actual mask and only to hold masks by their ear straps.
Users should always wash their hands after handling a mask and be careful where they store their masks. For example, the release states to never remove a mask and store it in a pocket or elsewhere before reusing it.
Masks should be held as close to the skin as possible, with the white side facing out. Finally, users should always inspect their face masks for holes or tears before using them.
Choi’s lab is being funded by Mitacs, a Canadian not-for-profit 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.”
Mitacs has also been involved with the SARS outbreak of 2003, and have invested millions into research internships in universities, among other projects.
Mitacs scientist Rubino is a PhD student who has been working on salt-coated masks since 2015.
“Our technology will contribute to global health by improving infection prevention of pandemic and epidemic diseases,” Rubino said in the release.