September 1, 2022

Study: Rubber bands enhance surgical mask seal akin to N95 protection

By: Tarsilla Moura

Editor's Note

In this recent study, titled “A simple surgical mask modification to pass N95 respirator-equivalent fit testing standards during the COVID-19 pandemic” and published by PLOS ONE on August 24, the use of rubber bands worn over standard 3-layer surgical masks is shown to improve the mask’s protective seal against particle exposure “to the level of an N95 respirator,” Healthcare Purchasing News September 1 reports.

The research team, led by a Michigan Medicine surgeon, worked with 40 healthcare workers (HCWs) to test the efficacy of the surgical masks modified by adding two 8-inch rubber bands over the head, bridge of the nose, around the cheeks, and under the chin (view the Michigan Medicine release for an illustration). Here are the findings, according to the article:

  • The modified masks of 31 of the 40 HCWs (or 78%) passed a fit test with a score of greater than 100, which is the passing threshold set by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to achieve N95 level of protection.
  • The passing masks scored an average of 151, showing a “significantly better fit than an unmodified surgical mask score of 3.8” but still lower than the 199 score of a properly fitted N95 mask.
  • By the last day of the study, all of the modified masks passed the N95 threshold, “suggesting that greater experience with the banding improved fit and performance.”

“This easy modification could address N95 respirator shortages worldwide and provide healthcare workers and individuals in under-resourced regions—or even in a resourced area like the US when production demands can’t properly meet needs in a pandemic—a practical means for increased personal protection,” said Jaimo Ahn, MD, PhD, FACS, professor of orthopaedic surgery at University of Michigan Medical School and senior author of the paper published by PLOS ONE.

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