Israeli scientists have invented a way to provide the virus protection achieved by face masks without needing to actually cover the face – using an “air shield” instead.
They have produced prototypes of a small, battery-powered device that fits over a baseball cap and emits air that blows downward in front of the face at 30 kilometers per hour (19 mph).
The prototypes performed well, indicating that they could protect the wearer from viruses emitted by those around them and, if the wearer is infected, protect others.
The tests took place using particles of different sizes that mimic the movement of viral droplets and aerosols – tiny bits of bodily fluid that can carry the coronavirus or other viruses. The results are now online in a peer-reviewed study published in the journal Experimental Thermal and Fluid Science.
“We tried to quantify the number of droplets that still reached the face and found that the ‘air filter’ provided high protection comparable to masks,” said Moshe Shoham, a professor at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology and co-director of the study, told The Times of Israel.
A company he started, Wisdome Wearables, will soon start producing the devices and they should hit stores within months.
The experiment simulated the effects of a person sneezing or coughing one meter from the subject. Some 62% of droplets and aerosols heading towards the person wearing the device were stopped. And 99% of droplets and aerosols directed from the wearer to others were stopped.
“It actually performs two functions, firstly to filter the air, which increases the hygiene of the person wearing the ‘mask’, and secondly, the screen of air droplets and aerosols carrying the virus,” said Shoham.
“It’s a good solution given that ordinary masks are very uncomfortable for many, especially the elderly, and very inconvenient for people in professions such as teaching and therapy who want their face to be seen. “
Several research teams have experimented with airborne alternatives to masks, but none have yet made it into popular devices. Dyson, the company known for its vacuum cleaners, is about to launch headphones with an air filtering device. Unlike Shoham’s solution, it’s face-based and expected to cost hundreds of dollars, while Shoham aims for a low price.
Shoham developed the mask with Professor David Greenblatt, David Keisar and Anan Garzozi. Greenblatt said the technology has enduring relevance since masks will be in demand beyond the COVID-19 pandemic.
“What we have developed will stop SARS-CoV-2 droplets, and also help against MERS, influenza and various other viruses,” he told The Times of Israel. “We expect our device to be affordable and efficient. We believe the pandemic has shown the usefulness of face masks far beyond COVID, and we expect this to be relevant post-pandemic.
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