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Snorkel Kits Help Doctors Get Through PPE Shortage

NOEL KING, HOST:

Many doctors and nurses still don't have enough personal protective equipment, so they are improvising - wearing cloth masks or 3D-printed face shields or snorkels.

ALEX STONE: So I had a couple of them lying around the house before all this COVID-19 stuff happened.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Dr. Alex Stone is an anesthesiology resident at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston. He and another resident have both been working in the COVID intensive care unit. They had heard about PPE shortages elsewhere, and they came up with an emergency solution.

STONE: It's basically a off-the-shelf snorkel mask with an adapter so that the snorkel mask will take a standard anesthesia circuit filter that you can find in most hospitals.

KING: They pitched the idea to engineers at Google. The engineers designed a prototype in a day. Sanjay Vakil works at Google by day, and now by night, he works at the new nonprofit maskson.org.

SANJAY VAKIL: A lot of the engineering was attempting to do the sorts of testing that the FDA would require with whatever we could find that could replicate those tests as accurately as possible.

GREENE: We're talking about testing the mask's durability for cleaning and reuse and making sure it has a good seal. The group has shipped more than 2,500 snorkel kits to doctors across the country and is fundraising to do more. Dr. Zaid Altawil is a resident at Boston Medical Center. We reached him in the emergency department.

ZAID ALTAWIL: I've used it to see regular patients, and I've used it to see patients who have COVID-19.

GREENE: He is testing out the mask to give the engineers feedback and to prepare in the event of a shortage.

ALTAWIL: Being part of a larger effort to make sure that medical providers everywhere are safe when they need to be has been very profound and very important for me, and I'm proud to be a part of it.

KING: Maskson.org is clear that its snorkel kits are not approved by the FDA. They should only be used when FDA-approved gear isn't available and certainly not in surgical settings. Dr. Alex Stone says, overall, the volunteer effort has been really inspiring.

STONE: People are donating their time and their expertise to get these things actually on people's faces, and it's been unreal.

KING: Health care workers can ask for free kits at maskson.org.

[Editor's note: Dr. Alex Stone’s co-founder of maskson.org is Dr. Jackie Boehme.] Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.