Paramedics, ICU staff, and anyone else currently working with patients in any capacity is probably wearing a face mask for extended periods of time. N95 masks, which are easy to wear while providing substantial protection, can reduce the amount of oxygen reaching the lungs by up to 20%. This causes fatigue, may lower blood-oxygen saturation, and lead staff to work shorter hours or even force them to pull their masks off the face frequently to get breathers. Now, researchers at Stanford University, who typically work on fuel cells for cars, have developed an oxygen concentrator that can be interfaced with N95 masks to provide pure oxygen directly to the user.
The new device uses an electrochemical process to concentrate oxygen, something the team members have expertise with because of their work on fuel cells, but the team plans to produce one more prototype that works in a different way.
A tube from the concentrator is connected to the N95 mask to provide direct access to the pure oxygen, hopefully allowing the mask to remain light and comfortable to wear while making breathing a lot easier.
The technology should help medical staff, but also allow people with COPD and other conditions to be able to wear face masks for longer periods.
More in a Stanford interview with John Xu, one of the lead engineers of the new device: COVID-19 prompts Stanford engineers to rethink the humble face mask