This week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued new guidance to put the “mask debate” to bed once and for all — wearing a face mask stops the transmission of COVID-19. Covering up the mouth and nose reduces the emission of potentially infectious droplets: the source of over 50 percent of COVID-19 community transmissions.
Results from a new study demonstrate that the face masks of the future could do so much more than simply act as a barrier against aerosols. This “lab-on-mask” technology also remotely monitors heart rate, blood oxygen saturation, blood pressure, and body temperature, providing real-time information on the wearer’s COVID-19 status.
One of the smart mask developers, Xian Jun Loh from Singapore’s Institute of Materials Research and Engineering (IMRE) said, “A system that remotely monitors patients’ vital parameters can help reduce face-to-face contact between healthcare workers and patients.”
“Such a remote system also benefits recovering patients by helping them track their progress, relieving the stress on overwhelmed healthcare systems during a pandemic.”
Ensuring mask comfort and wireless connectivity were at the forefront of the smart mask’s design. To that end, a thin and flexible material (polydimethylsiloxane) studded with diagnostic sensors was used. Physiological signals from the sensors are then sent to in-built data processing modules before being wirelessly transmitted to a smartphone app, which allows for continuous, real-time monitoring.
Parameters such as blood oxygen saturation use infrared light-emitting diodes, or LEDs, that illuminate blood vessels just below the surface of the skin. The reflection of this light is picked up and converted into electrical signals, providing physicians with diagnostic metrics.
Future iterations of the smart mask will also be able to monitor for the presence of viruses, instantly deactivating them with antiviral coatings on the surface of the smart mask.