MONTREAL -- A team at the Montreal General Hospital has come up with a novel way to help protect health-care workers by adapting snorkel masks to replace the N95 mask.

With worries about supplies of N95 masks running low, trauma surgeon and critical care physician Dan Deckelbaum, who is also a SCUBA diver, finessed the idea of a full-face snorkel mask for front-line workers early on in the pandemic.

"We opened the diving shop. It felt like we were breaking into the store because everything was closed. And we did a basic fit test for appropriate suction and things like that," he explained.

Within 24 hours and with the help of the Montreal General Hospital Foundation, they bought a large supply of Aria brand snorkel masks before stock sold out.

With the respirator and visual component separated by valves to limit cross-contamination, the adapted mask helps keep hospital staff and patients safe by reducing the transmission of germs. It also lowers anxiety about running out of protective equipment.

The makeshift mask can be sterilized and reused and has been put through rigourous testing.

"We composed a team, a multidisciplinary team of infection control, infectious disease physicians, intensivists, surgeons, nurses, respiratory therapists, biomedical engineers and we're working with the research institute of the MUHC as well," said Deckelbaum.

It also has to be comfortable.

"What's interesting is even individuals and health care practitioners who haven't fit an N95 mask or any of the multitude of masks out there, and there are many, most fit this mask," the physician explained.

Like all personal protective equipment, the mask also has to be easy to use.

"When I take it off, I slide it off backwards," said Deckelbaum. "So if there's any contamination on the mask, it never touches the face."

Deckelbaum is glad his love of SCUBA helped form this face mask for his fellow front-line workers. He's now waiting for government approval.