As Director of the Medical Device Research Institute at Flinders University, she knew the University was well placed to address this challenge, given its advanced facilities and world-class cross-disciplinary personnel.
“We have the right people, expertise and resources, so we made logical connections and brought together a team able to tackle problems head-on and provide a vital service to the community,” says Professor Reynolds. This team brought together expertise from engineering, physiology, chemistry, materials science and environmental health.
With the support of the South Australian Government, and in collaboration with colleagues from UniSA, the team established the South Australian Mask Testing Facility. The new facility provides domestic industry with an opportunity to meet consumer demand in a severely disrupted market due to COVID-19-affected global trade and transport logistics. The first request came from local company Detmold, which was establishing new manufacturing capability tests for medical respirators and surgical face masks in South Australia.
“Until the pandemic, much of the testing for these items had been done outside of Australia. With increased demand resulting from COVID-19, the time taken for these tests to be run overseas was growing. Our facility has provided a sovereign capacity to conduct the testing here, assisting both domestic manufacturers and importers,” says Professor Reynolds.
With additional support from Flinders Foundation, Flinders has been able to expand the facility’s function to include textile testing, which allows surgical gown manufacturers to test resistance to bacteria, viruses and fluids, and extends the nation’s capabilities for testing of PPE.
However, Professor Reynolds wasn’t satisfied with merely measuring items against existing standards. The uncharted frontier of COVID-19 risk management demands increased rigour and expanded investigation. It also requires thinking differently about problems to achieve better outcomes. She is urging Flinders’ research teams to reach higher.
“Once the new testing facilities were activated, it opened up new research questions. Testing the effectiveness of materials used in face masks is one important matter, but what about leaks around the edges of masks? That’s where aerosol penetration can occur. What value is a test that shows a fabric effectively filters out 95% of coughed or sneezed aerosol delivery, when the mask design allows 50% leak around its edges?