Gamechanger face mask: Israeli speed and creativity

Here are the basic facts about face masks and ViriMASK, based on Lachman’s report and my interview.

Dr. Noam Gavriely’s latest invention,  the ViriMASK. (photo credit: Courtesy)
Dr. Noam Gavriely’s latest invention, the ViriMASK.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
On November 26, 2018, I wrote in The Jerusalem Report about “snow-capped idea volcanoes” – Israelis over 60 whose creative inventions are changing the world. Among the inventors I interviewed was Dr. Noam Gavriely, former vice-dean of Technion’s Medical School and a serial entrepreneur, whose Hemaclear startup, based in Tirat Carmel, enables orthopedic surgery on arms and legs with little or no blood loss.
Gavriely is back in the news. According to Abigail Klein Lachman, writing in the Israel21c website, Gavriely’s latest invention, the ViriMASK, can be a gamechanger in mitigating the impact of COVID-19.
Gavriely will turn 70 in October. He began work on the new mask on February 3. He told me in a telephone interview that Hemaclear is coordinating with its Chinese producer to manufacture 1,000 ViriMASKs daily, ultimately ramping up to 100,000 a day. The filters for the mask, in contrast, could be produced in Israel, Europe and North America.
Here are the basic facts about face masks and ViriMASK, based on Lachman’s report and my interview.

Are conventional paper face masks effective?
Apparently not. Even high-quality masks, known as N95, designed to achieve a close facial fit and efficient filtration, able to block 95% of small particles, cannot fully block tiny virus particles and cannot kill the virus; blocked viral particles stay on the mask’s surface and pose a risk when the masks are discarded. Nor do the masks cover the eyes, which could be a possible entry point for coronavirus.

What does ViriMASK do?
It is strapped around the head, and covers the eyes with a visor and the nose and mouth with a filtering mechanism. It can be washed and reused. The filters must be replaced after 12 hours of use and disposed into a special envelope, containing disinfectant.
ViriMASK is patent pending and should be ready for efficacy testing around mid-April. It will cost about $50, including two filters and disposal envelopes. Additional filter-envelope packs will cost about $2 each.
“Everyone is wearing a paper mask under the illusion that it protects them. It doesn’t. So I said, okay, we need something to bridge the gap between gas masks and face masks’, Gavriely told Lachman.
His background is eminently suited for developing a new effective face mask. Gavriely has studied respiratory diseases for years and has pathbreaking patents for measuring respiratory distress.

Can the ViriMASK change the current draconian social isolation policy?
“When we effectively isolate the nose, mouth and eyes of individuals,” Gavriely explained to me, “this is just as good or perhaps better than full isolation, because it allows people to be mobile and to work on production lines, etc.”
Israel’s Finance Ministry estimates that the partial shutdown of the country taking effect on Sunday March 15 will cost the economy some 11 billion shekels ($3 billion) over six weeks. This could be a serious underestimate.

Will the ViriMASK be comfortable and easy to wear?
“There is a barrier frame separating the eyes, nose and mouth from the world around us,” Gavriely told Lachman. “The innermost layer is made of a soft silicone-like material, so it’s comfortable.” Gavriely’s industrial designer, Dudi Ashkenazi, designed the mask to be functional but also fairly comfortable and user friendly, he explained.
You can drive wearing the mask, Gavriely noted. You can talk with it.

Will the ViriMASK fit everyone?
Fit is essential for an effective face mask. So Gavriely plans to make multiple sizes and introduce an online fitting gadget. “A one-size-fits-all mask would be as bad as a one-size-fits-all brassiere,” he explained.

What role can Israeli creativity play, in overcoming this crisis?
I spoke with my Neaman Institute colleague, Dr. Reuven Gal, a former IDF chief psychologist who is an expert on social resilience. He told me that in times of crisis we usually ask people to continue with their routine lives – but, as Prime Minister Netanyahu explained, in this crisis we cannot. We are asked to isolate socially, to radically change our routine.
So, he said, we follow the example of the palm tree, which can bend almost to the ground in a windstorm – we bend our routine, change our behavior, so we can bounce back when the crisis passes – as it will.
In social isolation, we miss the support of our friends and family. But technology can mitigate the isolation and creativity, like that of the ViriMASK, can help keep us and the world healthy and happy.

The writer heads the Zvi Griliches Research Data Center at S. Neaman Institute, Technion and blogs at www.timnovate.wordpress.com