Researchers at WVU develop new, comfortable mask for hospitality and tourism workers


MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Researchers at West Virginia University’s Hospitality Innovation and Technology (HIT) Lab have developed a copper-based face mask to aid workers in the hospitality and tourism industry.

The mask, called Hygenmask, consists of three layers: a copper-infused nano-coated fabric, a bamboo fabric made to be sustainable, and a bio-material filter called a ePTFE. The mask also includes adjustable elastic head loops that wrap around the wearer’s head instead of the ears.

The copper is believed to have anti-microbial properties. This inspired the research team’s first product the Hygenkey, a copper touch tool.

“The mask is ideally for people who are always at the front desk or talking to people six to eight hours at a time, whether in restaurants, resorts, airports, or any hospitality and tourism industry,” said Ajay Aluri, the founding director of HIT Lab. “Some of these masks out there, if you wear them for a long time, it can be really rough on your skin. So we strived to make it more hygienic and sustainable from a fabric standpoint.”

To test the effectiveness of the mask, Aluri had the scientists at the WVU School of Medicine’s Center for Inhalation Toxicology check the mask’s ability to protect its wearer, as well as how effectively it prevents the spread of airborne droplets.

A fit test was performed to see how much protection the mask offers. The test scores between 1 to 100, 100 being the highest protection. The average mask alternative usually scores less than three.

Aluri’s Hygenmask had a score ranging from 6 to 15.

“People send us all kinds of masks and most of them get ones or twos,” Timothy R. Nurkiewicz, the director of the Center, said. “When we saw Ajay’s mask scoring in that range, that tells you there’s a bit of protection there.”

The mask was able to block up to 93% of droplets that passed into it. However, the mask’s copper properties were not tested.

“The Hygenmask offers good protection to its users,” WVU Department of Physiology and Pharmacology professor E.J. Van Liere and Nurkiewicz said. “Combined with physical distancing, good HVAC, limiting time in a crowd and limiting the crowd size, the mask should afford the users some confidence.”

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