Medical worker wearing face mask.

MN Impact: University of Minnesota research helps in development of face masks

March 31, 2021

The Issue

Face masks have been a part of our lives for nearly a year, and health officials say they’re the simplest way to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Like many aspects of the COVID-19 pandemic, needs and requirements for face masks and other personal protective equipment (PPE) and who needs them have transformed over the last year. 

Key Activities

Early in the pandemic, concerns about N95 respirator shortages dominated the headlines around the world and there was an immediate need for safe alternatives that could also be quickly and effectively mass produced. But as supply chains stabilized, UMN researchers could focus on developing masks that not only block the virus but effectively kill it on contact. 

MNmask: In spring 2020, the need for N95 masks skyrocketed as concerns grew about shortages for medical workers. To address this issue, a multidisciplinary team of UMN designers, engineers and scientists joined forces to develop face masks that could be used during the pandemic to help protect frontline health care workers in crisis situations should N95 respirators not be available. 

LOG3Mask: Another UMN team was interested in improving the overall effectiveness of PPE equipment, like face masks, in order to not only help stop the spread of COVID-19 but also ensure future viruses would not require the extreme measures used to control the spread of COVID-19. 

Results

MNmask: In May 2020 — six weeks from essential concept to production — and after rigorous testing, the team released three MNmask designs: a single-use, foldable mask (Style 1), a reusable anesthesia mask with an attached disposable filter (Style 2), and a simple-to-prepare single-use general-purpose face mask (Style 3). They produced over 6,000 of Style 1 and provided them to M Health Fairview health care workers. Over 50,000 of Style 3 were packaged over a five-day period for use across the University. The designs were also made available to license at no-cost.

LOG3Mask: While designed and produced by UMN start-up company Claros Technologies, the LOG3Mask was created using antiviral coating technology developed by UMN researchers and tested and validated at UMN labs. When imparted onto fabrics and other textiles, ZioShield technology inactivates over 99.9 percent of viruses within 10 minutes of contact. It also provides higher particle filtration efficiency than surgical masks by blocking over 95 percent of small and large particles. Claros Technologies’ LOG3Mask not only kills the virus but also blocks viral droplets from reaching the wearer and the wearer’s droplets from other people. The Center for Disease Control recently provided funding to Claros to help scale up production of the LOG3Mask.

Public Value

The Department of Health and Human Services estimated that the U.S. will need 3.5 billion masks throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. An economic analysis using U.S. data found increasing universal masking by 15 percent could prevent the need for lockdowns and reduce associated losses of up to $1 trillion or about 5 percent of gross domestic product. University researchers responded to the immediate need for safer and more effective mask and PPE options for health care workers and have helped to develop novel ways to protect not only medical workers but the public from COVID-19 and future pandemics.