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New Israeli-made mask claims to offer best protection yet against coronavirus

Former IDF gas mask innovator says his invention stops 99.25% of airborne particles — better than N95 — while insisting this outweighs its clunky look

Nathan Jeffay is The Times of Israel's health and science correspondent

The new ViriMASK, invented by Noam Gavriely (courtesy of ViriMASK)
The new ViriMASK, invented by Noam Gavriely (courtesy of ViriMASK)

An Israeli scientist has invented a mask that “seals” the face and, according to testing, blocks 99.25% of coronavirus-sized particles, he said.

Noam Gavriely helped the Israel Defense Forces develop gas masks during the Iraq War, and admits that his new product, ViriMASK, resembles some wartime protection devices and doesn’t look attractive. But he said that in terms of protection, it offers a significant improvement over the N95 masks, which are meant to filter at least 95% of airborne particles, and are widely seen as the best currently available option.

Gavriely, ViriMASK CEO, told The Times of Israel: “Unlike other products, this is sealed all around the face, like gas masks and diving masks. And the filter is much more dense than the N95 mask and surgical masks, meaning that fewer particles penetrate.”

He said this can give peace of mind to hospital workers and other medical professionals, including dentists, and others who are at a higher risk of being exposed to the coronavirus.

A man wears the ViriMASK at an Israeli train station. (Boris Klotz)

The mask straps around the head and covers the eyes, nose and mouth, meaning that all points currently believed to be channels for coronavirus infection are protected.

“In this sense, you’re covering yourself completely and also protecting the environment around you from any infection you may have,” said Gavriely, who was a professor of physiology at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology until his early retirement in 2005.

“Originally, we designed it to give protection for medical staff, but others have started buying it online and we’re finding that almost everyone can use it,” he said. “People buy it to go to visit grandparents, to go on flights and wear for hospital check-ups.”

Common choices for coronavirus protection. Noam Gavriely says his invention will deliver a better option. (Rewat Sombat; iStock by Getty images)

Gavriely’s product, invented soon after the start of the pandemic and manufactured in Tirat Carmel near Haifa, was released just over a month ago with a price tag of NIS 250 ($70). So far 10,000 have been sold through medical supply distributors and online purchases.

It recently completed an assessment at the Standards Institution of Israel, using sodium chloride particles sized 0.087 microns, which are slightly smaller than the average coronavirus particle. Testers found that it blocked 99.25% of the particles.

Noam Gavriely (courtesy of Noam Gavriely)

The mask relies on a filter that needs to be changed after 60 hours of use. Gavriely said it has been designed for good airflow and he believes it allows easier breathing than an N95. He said the mask is light and allows wearers to be well-heard when speaking, but admitted one downside: it can’t accommodate beards unless they are smeared in vaseline.

Gavriely hopes the ViriMASK will become standard-issue protection at hospitals around the world, but said he knows that wearing it isn’t easy. “It’s not magic or a miracle,” he said. “Like many other masks, it’s an imposition but it’s an important imposition.”

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