Novel coronavirus disease is caused by SARS-CoV-2, an extremely virulent strain of coronavirus that is responsible for an increasing number of illnesses and deaths, globally. According to the World Health Organization, ?SARS-CoV-2 is transmitted via droplets and fomites during close unprotected contact between an infector and an infectee?. A recent study has shown that these virions can be airborne for at least 30 minutes and be active on the aerosol droplets up to three hours. Non-pharmaceutical protection is essential to stunt the spread of this virus. As of March 19, 2020, the Center for Disease Control?s official guidelines include non-optimal reuse of surgical masks for extended periods of time. Then, on March 27, 2020, the World Health Organization declared a critical emergency on personal protection equipment. The reuse of masks puts healthcare workers, first line responders, patients, and the community at risk. The aim of this research project between the University of Texas-Austin and the University of Florida Health Shands Hospital is to develop and implement a rapid protocol for extended use of surgical and N95 masks. The researchers will develop a fast, simple procedure for turning passive masks into active protective gear.

This proposal addresses a critical need to improve personal protection equipment during the coronavirus crisis. A new extended use protocol for masks will render immediate benefits to the healthcare community. An enhanced mechanistic understanding of virion capture and inactivation at nano-bio interfaces will have wide applicability in the design of personal protective equipment. This research project has the following objectives: (i) obtain masks from the Shands hospital, treat them with surfactants, ultraviolet-C ray, and steam, and then characterize the efficacy of each treatment using viability tests, (ii) modify mask surfaces with surfactant-modified (sodium lauryl sulfate, butadines, or stearoyl lactylate) carbon particles (activated carbon, carbon quantum dots, or nano-diamond) at different ratios and moisture content and then test their efficacy in attaching and inactivating coronaviruses, (iii) understand the mechanisms of virus attachment and inactivation, and (iv) implement a rapid extended mask-use program. The outcomes from this project should have critical and widespread scientific and public health impacts. The modified masks could provide needed support to the depleted mask-inventory of health care providers.

This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.

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University of Texas Austin
United States
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