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Could This Color-Changing Mask Accessory Test You For COVID-19?

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Researchers are developing this color-changing test strip, that can be stuck on a mask and used to detect SARS-CoV-2 in a user’s breath or saliva. (Courtesy UCSD)

We know that face masks help stop the spread of COVID-19, but what if they could also act as a sensor to help you find out if you've been exposed?

Researchers at UC San Diego are currently developing a color-changing test strip, or sticker, that could be attached to any type of mask and used to detect the virus in the mask-wearer's breath or saliva.

Engineering professor Jesse Jokersts is the lead researcher on the project. He says at the end of the day, or when changing your mask, you'd break open a blister pack on the test strip, which would release a liquid.

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He explains:

"The liquid would just flow across the sticker. And that's when you would observe for a color change. So it's not as if it's going to be sitting there broadcasting this color to the whole world ... As you're wearing it, it's just accumulating the biomarker. It doesn't test until you click the little blister pack."

The test strip works by detecting the presence of protein-cleaving molecules, called proteases, that are produced from infection with the SARS-CoV-2 virus.
The test strip before the blister pack is opened. (Courtesy UCSD)
The test strip after the blister pack is opened. (Courtesy UCSD)

Jokerst says the test strip wouldn't replace a COVID test, but it could be especially useful in high-risk settings such as nursing homes and prisons where the virus can spread quickly.

The project received $1.3 million from the National Institutes of Health, and is aimed at providing simple, affordable and reliable surveillance for COVID-19 infections.

You can read more about this research here.

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