Team of Manitoba doctors producing reusable N95-like masks
WINNIPEG -- Doctors are on the front lines in the battle against COVID-19, and now a team of local doctors is taking on a new challenge.
Workers around the globe are trying to get their hands on the high-demand N95 masks. Those masks are made to be worn once, and then thrown out.
But this group of Manitoba doctors is wondering if there is a better way? That was the thought behind a new, reusable, easy to clean and sanitize silicone mask, designed similar to the hard-to-find N95s.
Dr. Christian Petropolis, a reconstructive surgeon, said he quickly came up with a design after being approached by a colleague. Within 24 hours he had a rough mock-up, and within a week he had a functional prototype.
"The goal was to have one that was very easy to seal to many people. The easier the seal, the less pressure you have to have for the straps, so it makes it more comfortable," said Petropolis. "All along this process we've been using it, wearing it everyday. Each new version -- we're assessing it."
This isn't his first creation. Petropolis along with Dr. William Turk, an ophthalmologist, are well-versed in making silicone models which are used to practice surgery. The two have been working together for more than five years, and this project was an easy fit for them.
"There's certain processes and techniques that we developed, that had to take years to develop, but once you have that skill set, you can then apply it to this situation," said Turk.
The design was shared with the province. Officials then put a call out to local manufacturers to produce this mask as quickly as possible.
Now, it's full steam ahead for the team of doctors.
"This is about six months worth of work that we're condensing down into a number of weeks," said Petropolis.
The goal now is to make 1,000 masks by the end of next week, and send those to Winnipeg's Health Sciences Centre. Work will then continue on an additional 5,000 masks, until a manufacturer is locked in, at which time more masks can be made at a faster pace.
The hope, too, is these masks will be around long after the pandemic is over.
"Ultimately, it's going to be up to industry. We're doctors. We're doing this for the goodwill of our colleagues and for our patients, and so ultimately, industry is the best one to carry this forward into the long term in terms of the months and years ahead," said Turk.
While the days are long -- sometimes 18 to 20 hours -- the team of medical professionals isn't fazed.
"As a surgeon, we're trained to deal with these high intensity, high stress, long hour-type situations, so I feel like I've been well-prepared to deal with this," said Petropolis.
"I feel great. I feel very happy that we're doing something that's going to make a big difference for people."
Local manufacturers have until noon Friday to express interest to the province in producing these masks.
Petropolis said the design has also been made available online with free access to it, that way people around the world can produce these masks for free.