After a short-lived euphoria following the approval of COVID-19 vaccines, the relentless spread of the highly infectious Delta variant has forced us to return to mask-wearing, even if vaccinated. With varying degrees of protection — from basic cloth face coverings to advanced N95 or KN95 masks — masks have mostly been portrayed as a precautionary measure to prevent the transfer of viral load from one person to another. But what if there was a face mask that could kill the virus? A group of researchers at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) say that’s exactly what they invented.
The scientists from UNAM’s Materials Research Institute say they have developed a triple-layered antimicrobial face covering. They named the new technology “SakCu” — a combination of “Sak,” the word for silver in Mayan, and “Cu,” the chemical symbol for copper.
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A study about the potentially revolutionary face mask was published in UNAM’s official gazette on Thursday, August 26, Reuters reported. According to the journal, the researchers tested the mask by extracting drops with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, from sick patients at the Hospital Juarez in Mexico, and sprinkling them onto a silver-copper film deposited in polypropylene.
When the viral concentration was high, the virus disappeared by more than 80% in about eight hours, the study says. But when the viral load was low, the virus RNA was completely gone in just two hours. (The findings have not yet been peer-reviewed.)
“Upon contact with the silver-copper nanolayer, the SARS-CoV-2 membrane breaks and its RNA is damaged,” the gazette explained. “Thus, even if SakCu is disposed of improperly, it will not be a problem as it does not remain contaminated, like many of the masks that are thrown away.”
The researchers added that the face mask is reusable and can be washed up to 10 times without losing its ability to destroy the virus.
However, UNAM is not planning mass-producing the face-covering, saying it can only produce 200 of them per day. For now, vaccination remains the most effective way of preventing serious illness from the virus. So get vaccinated if you haven’t already, and continue wearing your mask.