U designs innovative respirator system

In response to the overwhelming demand for Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) due to COVID-19, the Center for Medical Innovation (CMI) at University of Utah Health has designed an enclosed Powered Air Purifying Respirator (PAPR) system to provide health care workers safe and reusable PPE when working with COVID-19 patients.


Designed to fully enclose the face of the user, a PAPR system consists of a hood or helmet and a filtered respirator to provide those wearing the system a constant flow of clean air. This positive pressure prevents entry of unfiltered air and protects the health worker from inhaling aerosolized COVID-19 particles.

However, due to the specialized nature of the equipment, hospitals typically have a limited quantity of the systems on-hand at any given time.

“PAPR systems provide excellent protection and can drastically reduce the consumption of single-use PPE, such as common N95 respirators,” explains Bryan McRae, interim co-director at CMI. “Unfortunately, PAPRs have now been unavailable for standard suppliers for more than a month. The CMI team and our University of Utah Health colleagues have been nimble and innovative in developing a solution to bridge the gap while traditional PPE sources remain uncertain.”

By combining readily available components such as mobile battery packs, portable fans and replaceable medical grade filters with several 3-D printed adapters, the assembled PAPR system designed by CMI expands the options to protect health workers treating COVID-19 patients.

The PAPR system on a table. The components are a plastic face shield surrounded by a white material that looks like a shower cap, connected to a long tube that plugs into a portable air filtration system.

The PAPR system is made by combining readily available components such as mobile battery packs, portable fans, and replaceable medical grade filters with several 3D printed adapters.

Using a standardized rating system known as “Fit Factor,” PAPR systems typically rate somewhere between 200 and 1000 on the quantitative fit testing scale. This means the system reduces the concentration of 0.3 micron aerosolized particles inside the system by 200 to 1000 times when compared to the air outside the hood. The PAPR system developed by the CMI was assessed by the Rocky Mountain Center for Occupational and Environmental Health at the University of Utah and offers a Fit Factor of 400 or better.

For comparison, on the OSHA scale known as an Assigned Protection Factor (APF), this PAPR offers an APF between 25 and 400, providing superior protection when compared to the common N95 respirator masks which typically only provide an APF of 10.

As the University of Utah Hospital braces for a potential surge of COVID-19 patients, all options to expand the supply of PPE are being explored. This includes retrofitting older pieces of still-viable equipment to the newer PAPR systems. Because of the customized 3-D printed adapter used to connect the respirator to the helmet, CMI’s PAPR system can also connect to older models of PAPR helmets still in-stock, enabling hundreds of previously unusable helmets to be worn safely and comfortably by health care workers at University Hospital.

Integrating feedback directly from those on the frontlines of COVID-19 management into the final PAPR system design, production has already begun to manufacture several hundred units as quickly as possible. Utilizing 3-D printing equipment on campus, including over 30 printers in production at the Marriott Library, Eccles Health Sciences Library and the College of Engineering, many of the PAPR systems will be ready for implementation within the week. Additional manufacturing support is being generously provided by O.C. Tanner and L3 Technologies.

“We are especially grateful for the expertise and insight from our university and industry partners,” said Bernhard Fassl, interim co-director of CMI. “As we further develop solutions for health workers during the COVID-19 outbreak, we will continue to rely on our community partners to help us implement these projects.”

Later this week, CMI will be releasing design specifications for the PAPR system to other health care groups and the public. This includes Indian Health Services and the Navajo Nation, as well as CMI’s global health partners in India, Kenya and Nepal, to provide guidance on assembly and use in resource-limited settings.

For more information about the PAPR system and the Center for Medical Innovation’s response to the COVID-19 outbreak, please click here.

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Utah’s spring air quality better than usual during pandemic

As stay-at-home measures went into place in March 2020, many wondered how fewer cars on the road would impact Salt Lake’s air quality. The first preliminary measurements are now in. Air quality along the Wasatch Front in March is usually good, but the reduction in emissions from COVID-19 stay-at-home measures have made air quality even better than usual.

The results here are some of the first to integrate ground-based air quality and greenhouse gas emissions with satellite observations to understand how emissions have changed .

“These measurements, taken together, paint a consistent picture of cleaner air from reduced emissions, especially from reduced traffic,” said Logan Mitchell, research assistant professor in the Department of Atmospheric Sciences at the University of Utah, who conducted the analysis using data from Utah Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) monitoring stations. “It shows how fast the air quality improves after a reduction in emissions and suggests that as the economy starts to recover and emissions ramp up, we’re going to see our air quality get worse again.”

“For environmental scientists, this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to study the air quality impacts of fewer cars on the road,” said Bryce Bird, director of the Utah DEQ’s Division of Air Quality. “We are looking forward to further analyzing the data our monitors collected during this period when residents were teleworking and driving less. Dr. Mitchell’s initial analysis shows a lot of promise and hopefully, the final results will help inform behavior and policy in the coming years.”

March air quality by the numbers

Measurements of all air pollutants come from a monitoring station at Hawthorne Elementary in Salt Lake City and additional measurements of carbon dioxide come from monitoring stations in Sugarhouse, at the U, and in the southwest Salt Lake Valley. The measurement period reported here is the last half of March since many of Utah’s stay-at-home measures were in effect by March 15.

  • NOx (oxides of nitrogen) levels were lower due to traffic reductions, especially during rush hour peaks. Nitric oxide (NO) levels were 57% lower than the average March, and nitrogen dioxide (NO2) was 36% lower than average.
  • O3 (ozone) is about the same as usual at midday but slightly elevated at night.  This is characteristic evidence of less NOxin the air and less reaction between NOx and ozone at night. It’s consistent with what scientists think urban air would look like with decreased NOemissions.
  • PM2.5 (particulate matter) is down by 41%, particularly at night. It’s not clear yet whether that’s due to reduced overall particulate matter emissions or reduced formation of particulate matter through atmospheric chemistry.
  • CO2 (carbon dioxide) levels are at 19% and 33% lower than average at the Sugarhouse and U stations, respectively.
  • SO2 (sulfur dioxide) is around typical levels. Mitchell says this isn’t surprising, as there aren’t many SO2 sources in the Salt Lake valley.

PHOTO CREDIT: Logan Mitchell

Pollutant concentrations by hour of day observed at the Utah DAQ Hawthorne site.

More analyses are forthcoming, and the data have not yet been peer-reviewed, Mitchell says. Also, analyzing the weather conditions from March 2020 will provide a more complete picture of how emissions compare to previous years.

“These results give me a lot of optimism about the future,” Mitchell said. “It shows that as we recover from the pandemic if we invest in clean energy and electric vehicles, it’s really possible to clean up the air.”

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Read the full report of preliminary results, including images, here.

Find current air quality conditions from the Utah DEQ here and measurements from stationary and mobile air quality monitors through the University of Utah here.