News

A New Solution to PPE Shortage is Coming to Pittsburgh: Converted Snorkeling Masks

NEWS

May 27, 2020



PITTSBURGH (May 27, 2020) – Healthcare workers and first responders in Southwestern Pennsylvania who are most at risk of exposure to COVID-19 soon will have 4,000 new high-end face masks to protect them – converted snorkeling masks invented by two anesthesiologists in Boston; designed by engineers from MIT and Google; scaled with the help of Lightspeed Manufacturing; and brought to Pittsburgh through the Richard King Mellon Foundation. 

Boston physicians Dr. Jackie Boehme and Dr. Alex Stone, both anesthesiologists at Boston’s Brigham & Women’s Hospital, came up with the idea to convert the snorkeling mask into a high-quality, long-term solution to the personal protective equipment (PPE) shortage that has dogged frontline healthcare workers throughout the pandemic. 

Drs. Boehme and Stone and an all-volunteer team from medical, academic and tech communities quickly formed MasksOn.org, a nonprofit that engineered a process to convert the snorkeling masks into PPE. Working with volunteers from Google and MIT, among other organizations, and fueled by $2 million in contributions, they so far have distributed 13,000 free masks to frontline healthcare workers in 48 states. 

The Richard King Mellon Foundation has awarded a $200,000 grant to MasksOn.org to enable 4,000 of the free masks to be distributed where they most are needed in Southwestern PA. Initial recipients will include Allegheny County’s seven Federally Qualified Health Centers; and in Westmoreland County, Excela Health, Bethlen Communities and Westmoreland County firefighters. 

“We first learned of MasksOn.org through our national technology network,” said Foundation Director Sam Reiman. “We were impressed with the creativity of their PPE design and the rigor of their testing. And we wanted to ensure Southwestern Pennsylvania frontline healthcare workers and first responders could benefit from these life-saving masks – particularly in the areas that need them most.” 

“MasksOn.org is a story of the power of ingenuity combined with altruism,” Reiman said. “We are proud to support MasksOn.org’s important work. And we urge other caring people and groups to consider doing the same.” 

MasksOn.org repurposes full-face snorkel masks to design and manufacture durable, reusable and sanitizable protective gear for high-risk clinicians in direct contact with COVID-19 patients. The snorkel mask is attached to a medical-grade filter using a custom-engineered 3D-printed and injection-molded adapter that creates an airtight seal over the snorkel holes. 

“The team at MasksOn.org is excited to work with the Richard King Mellon Foundation to advance our shared goal of keeping front-line healthcare workers safe,” said MasksOn.org executive director Sanjay Vakil, PhD. “We’re incredibly grateful for their generous support.”

Southwestern Pennsylvania frontline healthcare workers and first responders who are interested in obtaining a mask kit should reach out to MasksOn.org through their website

The $200,000 grant from Richard King Mellon Foundation is part of its $15 million COVID-19 response package, with the MasksOn.org grant awarded under its Healthcare Innovation and Technology initiative. The Foundation’s other two categories of COVID-19 assistance are Economic Impact and Recovery funding, and Emergency Operating Support grants for the Foundation’s nonprofit partners.

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Founded in 1947, the Richard King Mellon Foundation is the largest foundation in southwestern Pennsylvania. The Foundation’s 2019 endowment was $2.7 billion and its Trustees in 2019 awarded 172 grants totaling $129 million, focused on the Foundation’s strategic priorities: Education, human services, economic development, and environmental conservation. 

(Above)

Dr. Jackie Boehme, left, and Dr. Alex Stone, right, field testing the MasksOn.org face shield at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. (Photograph provided by MasksOn.org).