Facemask Sensor Being Developed at UCSD Could Help Detect COVID-19

UC San Diego was awarded $1.3 million to develop the facemask sensor

NBC Universal, Inc.

A team at UC San Diego School of Engineering is working to develop a sensor that would stick to your facemask and detect COVID-19 in your breath.

“Just imagine you would have a roll of stickers. And as you head out in the day you put one of these on, you would breathe through it. And at the end of the day you click a little blister pack and if the liquid changes colors that means you need to take some more action," explained UCSD NanoEngineering professor Jesse V. Jokerst, PhD.

The sensors would be able to detect the virus in particles from your breath and saliva, similar to a smoke detector, said Jokerst. From there, you'd know to go and get a COVID-19 test to confirm infection.

The National Institutes of Health awarded UC San Diego $1.3 million to develop the wearable sensors.

"If everyone had this sticker available and could test every day then it would more quickly stem these outbreaks and more quickly direct you to better testing," said Jokerst.

The UC San Diego professor and his team are working on refining their prototypes for approval this summer. They believe the sensors could be ready to use by year's end.

"Even if this doesn't come out in time to treat the U.S. pandemic, parts of the world will still not have full access to vaccines until 2022 and 2023. So we would imagine it having utility there," Jokerst said.

Once the pandemic ends, Jokerst said the tests could also be used to detect other coronavirus outbreaks, including MERS and SARS.

It's too soon to tell how much the sensors would cost, according to Jokerst. He noted that in order to make the process viable, they'd have to be somewhere in the ballpark of $1 a piece.

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