Anticipating N95 mask shortage, Ontario hospital turns to full-face snorkel masks

TORONTO — Limited supplies of N95 masks have one Toronto hospital considering modified full-face snorkel masks as an alternative.

Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre says it is taking snorkel initially meant for use underwater, and adding a filter meant to catch hazardous particles.

It says a team of engineers, entrepreneurs and physicians are testing a mask that can shield the eyes, nose and mouth. They’re also looking at creating tie-back surgical masks that can be made in-house.

The modified snorkel mask uses a 3D-printed adapter that replaces the stem snorkel at the top of the mask. The adapter can hold hospital-grade ventilator cartridges to filter particles, just like N95 masks.

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

Sunnybrook cardiologist and engineer Dr. Brian Courtney says this is “an unprecedented time” that demands “innovative solutions.”

Courtney is leading a development team with engineer and interventional cardiologist fellow Dr. Brian Li.

So far, they say “results are promising.”

“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,” Li added Thursday in a release.

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

Sunnybrook says the project was made possible by donors including Canadian Tire Corporation who provided 1,100 full-face snorkel masks.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 30, 2020.

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