This Color Changing Face Mask Could Detect If You Have COVID

By Caroline Lowder February 5, 2021
Researchers are hoping this new inexpensive and non-invasive technology might help to slow COVID infection rates.

Using technology similar to that of a home pregnancy test, scientists are working to develop a face mask that could visually detect if someone has COVID-19.

People who are infected with the COVID-19 exhale biomarkers called proteases (or enzymes that work to break down proteins) that directly relate back to the virus. It is with this in mind that scientist at the University of California San Diego got to work on creating a visual sensor that can be attached to masks.

The designed sensor is comprised of a small strip with a liquid-pack compartment. The surface of the strip collects the particles when a person exhales through the mask. When a user wishes to test their exhaled particles, they would simply break the pack compartment, which would mix a nanoparticle substance with any proteases on the strip. If COVID-19 proteases are present, the strip would change color and one would then know if they had the virus.

Though an incredibly promising piece of technology, researchers do say that this will likely not replace complete PCR tests. “Think of this as a surveillance approach, similar to having a smoke detector in your house,” Jesse Jokerst, a professor of nanoengineering at UC San Diego and the lead researcher on this project said in a press release. “This would just sit in the background every day and if it gets triggered, then you know there’s a problem and that’s when you would look into it with more sophisticated testing. We want this to be affordable enough for daily testing.”

Remarkably, researchers are thinking that these strips could be produced for only a few cents a pop, making this one of, if not the most, cost-effective testing mechanism to date. The potential accessibility of such technology is an exciting prospect and may be one easy way for us all to help stop the spread of COVID-19.