To help reduce the rate of infection, protective equipment worn by frontliners are typically worn once and then thrown away. This is because it would be easier to don a fresh set of equipment instead of having to clean and sanitize the older equipment. However, with the COVID-19 virus outbreak, we’re seeing doctors and nurses go through their PPE faster than ever.
This means that stock of PPE is running low which can make it harder for frontliners to do their jobs properly and safely. However, the good news is that the FDA has recently approved the use of scuba gear, in particular the mask, as a form of protective equipment that can be used and reused by frontliners who need them.
This is thanks to bioengineering professor Manu Prakash who after returning home from a vacation, developed a cough. While he tested negative for the COVID-19 virus, Prakash decided to self-quarantine for the next two weeks just to be safe. During those two weeks, he also explored the idea of using a scuba mask as a potential face shield that could be used by frontliners by combining it with a medical-grade filter.
The mask was tested by Prakash and his team where they later submitted it to the FDA where it has since been approved to be labeled as a face shield or surgical mask. The FDA is still looking into whether or not this could potentially be used as a substitute or alternative to the N95 respirator, but for now, it can be used as a regular face shield or mask.
The idea of reusable masks is one that is actively being explored. For example over in Taiwan, the country’s FDA showed how masks could be sanitized by using a rice cooker while over in the US, a husband and wife team came up with a decontamination method which is now being used in the US to decontaminate and reuse N95 masks.