One Toronto health centre is getting creative with swim gear. Sunnybrook Hospital doctors are developing a full-face snorkel mask as an alternative to personal protective equipment, in case of a dire shortage. With N95 masks in critical demand across the world right now, two engineers are leading a team in developing and testing the masks.

According to a release issued by the hospital, Dr. Brian Courtney and Dr. Brian Li are the brains behind the new effort to find alternative safeguards.

“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. Courtney via the statement.

“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."

The Sunnybrook release details that the full-face mask would potentially provide protection to all of the eyes, nose, and mouth.

With the help of 3D printers, the stem snorkel typically found at the top of the mask is actually replaced by an adapter that would fit ventilator cartridges in order to filter particles in the same way N95 masks do.

 

“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.

Once the testing stage is done, Sunnybrook intends to begin producing the N95-alternative and surgical masks in-house immediately.

The hospital thanks donors including Canadian Tire Corporation, which provided 1,100 of the snorkel masks.

However, Dr. Courtney assures that these masks will not be used until they are found to be safe and effective, and until they are strictly needed.

But it sounds like it's so far, so good.

The shortage of PPE has been a consistent topic in Ontario and worldwide in recent weeks as the full scale of the pandemic has become clearer.

There have been efforts to help with supplies across Ontario through the use of 3D printing, as well. A group of students from the GTA created face shields in order to help frontline healthcare workers amid the pandemic.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has also asked an Ontario PPE manufacturer to create 10 million face shields by August to support those across the country.

And just a few days ago, the PM shared during his live press briefing that more and more PPE will be coming into Canada daily. 

So there are plans in place to ensure vital medical and health staff are not left unprotected.

For now, though, Sunnybrook is working on its own backup plan.

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