DIY snorkeling mask mod for COVID-19 patients? Not so fast, warns Decathlon PH

Mar 26, 2020

(UPDATE, March 27: Added Decathlon Philippines' clarification.)

WITH medical supplies stretched thin, some people are turning into ingenious, do-it-yourself solutions to help out frontliners.

It could be 3D printed face shields (performed, in one case, by a 16 year old). Or personal protective equipment sewn by the top Filipino fashion designers.

In Italy, engineers have come forward with a more specialized solution. A firm called Isinnova claims to have designed a working CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) mask by adapting a full-face snorkeling mask for use with a ventilator for patients with severe symptoms of COVID-19.

A CPAP mask continuously blows a steady stream of air pressure into a patient’s airways so that it remains open.

Isinnova modified an Easybreath snorkeling mask into a CPAP mask by 3D printing a component that would connect the Easybreath to an existing ventilator.

They contacted the mask’s manufacturer, Decathlon, which “was immediately willing to cooperate by providing the CAD drawing of the mask we had identified,” wrote the firm in a company blog post. Isinnova then produced the link which they called a “Charlotte valve” to convert the snorkeling mask into a CPAP mask.

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The mask was tested inside Chiari Hospital in Brescia, Italy. (The company had previously helped out the hospital during the pandemic by 3D printing airway valves for the hospital’s ventilators.)

“The testing was successful,” continued the post.

The company quickly moved to patent the Charlotte valve, "to prevent any speculation on the price of the component."

They added: "We clarify that the patent will remain free to use, because it is in our intention that all hospitals in need could use it if necessary."

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Today, March 26 (Manila time), Decathlon Italia has announced that it would “donate 10,000 units of our Easybreath snorkeling masks to Italian regions.” (Translation is taken from the built-in Facebook tool.) Its Facebook post also said that the Easybreath CPAP mod is currently being studied at the Politecnico di Milano, and confirmed the patent (“brevetto della Società Isinnova”) held by Isinnova.

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Decathlon Philippines also issued a statement on the Easybreath on their social media pages today.

“As the mask is intended for snorkeling, we do not advise for it nor any Decathlon product to be used as a substitute for any medical device,” the local arm of the global sports store said. “We also do not encourage making any modifications to it for yourself that could impact the flow of air into the mask.”

It added, however, that Decathlon teams in Europe are working with “technical experts” to see “whether the mask may or may not be adapted to help in this fight against COVID-19.”

It said: “As much as we appreciate the contribution of our products in the current scenario, it is important for us to express the current stand of Decathlon regarding this matter.”

In their blog post, Isinnova said that the Easybreath CPAP modification should be a last-resort solution. “We are reiterating that the idea is designed for healthcare facilities [for] help in realization of an emergency mask in the case of a full-blown difficult situation, where [it] is not possible to find official healthcare supplies. Neither the mask nor the link are certified and their use is subject to a situation of mandatory need.”

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The mask, the firm noted, should only be used with a signed declaration of the patient.

UPDATE: Here is Decathlon Philippines' clarification emailed to SPIN Life:

"In the light of current events, we wish to clarify that the statement released yesterday
is the official stand of Decathlon at a global level," it said.

The statement continued: "We, at Decathlon (Decathlon Italia included), as designers, manufacturers, and distributors, reiterate that the Easybreath was designed solely for snorkeling activities. We, therefore, do not recommend any modification to be made independently. In fact, the Easybreath Mask is not certified as a medical device. However, and given the exceptional situation we are all living in, Decathlon Italia is assisting the local authorities responsible for public health.

"In the Philippines, we share the same mindset as Decathlon Italia, and we are being very open-minded. We started to discuss with local doctors and hospitals regarding this matter."

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