Sunnybrook developing full-face snorkel mask as alternative for N95 (PHOTOS)

May 1 2020, 8:00 am

As the world anticipates a shortage of N95 masks, Toronto’s Sunnybrook Heath Sciences Centre is looking at developing an alternative personal protective equipment (PPE) using what they are calling a “modified full-face snorkel mask.”

“This is an unprecedented time that is highlighting the need for innovative solutions to the challenges health-care workers are facing during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Dr. Brian Courtney, a cardiologist, engineer and scientist at Sunnybrook, who is working with engineer and interventional cardiologist fellow Dr. Brian Li.

They are leading teams of engineers, entrepreneurs, and physicians in developing and testing the N95 alternative, as well as tie-back surgical masks that can be made in-house, according to Sunnybrook.

Dr. Brian Li with the snorkel mask. (Kevin Van Paassen)

“In an ideal scenario, we wouldn’t need to use either of these masks, but in case we run out, we are developing alternatives that would allow us to keep doing procedures, look after our patients, and keep our health-care workers safe,” said Dr. Courtney.

PPEs such as gloves, gowns, face shields, and masks are considered essential tools for guarding health-care workers against being infected as they look after sick patients.

As an N95 alternative, the full-face snorkel mask provides shielded protection of the eyes, nose and mouth from the surrounding environment.

Sunnybrook developing N95 mask alternatives. (Kevin Van Paassen)

“Using 3D printing techniques, the stem snorkel at the top of the mask is replaced by an adapter that fits widely available ventilator cartridges to filter particles in the same manner as N95 masks,” said Sunnybrook.

While the masks and adapter would be sterilized and reused, the cartridges would be thrown out after each use.

“We have been aggressively testing filtration efficiency, fog resistance, comfort, ventilation, re-sterilization and the risks of inadvertent contamination when putting on and taking off these masks,” said Dr. Li.

“The masks will not be used until their safety and effectiveness can be ensured,” adds Dr. Courtney. “So far, results are promising.”

Once testing is complete, Sunnybrook said it will be able to produce both the N95-alternative and surgical masks in-house immediately, should the need arise.