People with COVID-19 can be contagious for the disease for two days before showing symptoms, according to Harvard Medical School.
By the time the infection is identified, a person might have spread the disease to others. That is why Jesse Jokerst decided to develop a wearable mask that acts like a “smoke detector” to monitor for COVID-19.
According to the University of California at San Diego News Center, the post-doctoral student created a color-changing test strip that can be used on a mask to detect SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, in a user’s breath or saliva.
Jokerst, a professor of nanoengineering at the UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering and the lead investigator of the novel project, said “masks are the perfect wearable sensor for our current world,” according to a news release. “We’re taking what many people are already wearing and repurposing them.”
The researchers have been given a $1.3 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to work on their breakthrough project.
The idea behind the invention is that when people wear the mask, the test strip accumulates particles from their breath during the day. When changing masks, or at the end of the day, the wearer squeezes the blister pack on the test strip which releases nanoparticles that change color in the presence of SARS-CoV-2. A control line on the test strip will indicate a positive result, similar to a home pregnancy test.
“Think of this as a surveillance approach similar to having a smoke detector in your home,” Jokerst said. He added the test strips are easily massed produced and therefore would be affordable. The researchers said the strips would allow group homes, prisons, and other high-risk facilities to monitor for COVID-19 more frequently.
According to Fast Company, the strip will also detect COVID-19 if you are walking through an infected environment. While Jokerst hopes the vaccines will render his breakthrough invention less important, he said, in some areas of the world, COVID-19 has been projected to linger until 2023. And because the technology he is using is pertinent to other viruses, it might be a useful tool for future outbreaks.
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