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U of T physicians working on a reusable surgical mask

Two members of the University of Toronto's Temerty Faculty of Medicine have joined forces to engineer a Level 1 surgical mask that can be worn and washed multiple times.
By: Madeleine Hall
January 15, 2021
Dr. Reena Kilan wearing an early prototype of the reusable mask. Photo: U of T
Dr. Reena Kilan wearing an early prototype of the reusable mask. Photo: U of T

Dr.'s Denyse Richardson and Reena Kilian are both faculty members at U of T's school of medicine. Together, they're leading a new initiative dubbed The ROSE Project (Re-usable Open-Source Equipment), with the aim of designing a reusable surgical mask suitable for use in health care settings. Currently, there is no reusable option that matches the protection offered by the disposable masks worn by health care professionals. Other team members on the ROSE Project include a textile engineer, an architect, multiple sewists, a knowledge translation expert, and a medical student.

With an increased need for PPE (both in health care settings and not) as well as a reduction in eco-friendly practices such as using reusable food and beverage containers, it's clear the environmental after-effects of the COVID-19 pandemic will be with us for some time. "Disposable surgical masks are only intended to be used once. They’re made of plastic and aren’t biodegradable or recyclable. We hope if there’s a reusable alternative developed, use of the disposable masks will fall, so we can protect the planet while we protect each other and ourselves," says Dr. Kilian.

Reusable masks approved for use in health care settings would also reduce the risk of widespread PPE shortages like the ones we saw in the early days of the pandemic. "We both work with patients who live in group homes and work closely with personal support workers. At the beginning of the pandemic, personal support workers had no PPE, which put patients who were already vulnerable at a disadvantage," says Dr. Kilian.

Once finalized, the mask design will be made available as an open source, meaning anyone in the world will be able to access it for free.

Source: U of T

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