Rubber band seal brings surgical mask protection to N95 levels, study finds

Standard surgical masks don't fully seal around a person's face, allowing for more participle exposure. But simply adding two rubber bands may improve the seal and offer N95 respirator-level protection, according to researchers at Michigan Medicine in Ann Arbor. 

The findings, published Aug. 24 in PLOS ONE, offer a potential way to mitigate N95 shortages during periods of high-demand — such as during a pandemic — since surgical masks are more widely available. To conduct the study, researchers tested the use of modified surgical masks on 40 healthcare workers. The masks were modified by placing one 8-inch rubber band over the crown of the wearer's head and under the bridge of the nose, with a second band placed along the cheeks and under the chin.

Thirty-one of the participants, or 78 percent, had modified masks with a fit test score of greater than 100, indicating the modified surgical masks achieved N95-level protection. The average score for an unmodified surgical mask was 3.8, researchers said. 

"While not sophisticated, it has the potential to save lives and preserve wellness," said Jaimo Ahn, MD, PhD, senior study author and professor of orthopedic surgery at the University of Michigan Medical School in Ann Arbor. "Its effect will last as long as there are respiratory diseases and [personal protective equipment] demand exceeds supply. It is immediately impactful and sustainable, yet simple and cheap." 

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