written by
Kiel Olver

Tackling COVID-19 Face First (Updated)

Community 2 min read

Article Update – August 2021

As Canada emerges from COVID, increasing vaccination rates and guidance from public health authorities have made it clear that we can retire our full faced N95 masks. Propel still provides instructors with waterproof shell masks.

We’re still happy that we were able to craft such a unique solution during the height of COVID and thankful to everyone who helped push the initiative along! ✌️

How we came up with our own solution to social distancing

With the world beginning to reopen, many businesses are struggling to adjust to new norms. Restaurants are rearranging their layouts, malls are adding pedestrian traffic lanes, and other industries including swimming lessons, are pushing to seek exemptions from physical distancing rules altogether.

As a marketplace for private swimming lessons, we faced a difficult decision. We could endorse physically distanced lessons which are ineffective and sometimes dangerous for beginner swimmers or we could join industry lobbying efforts to ask for eased restrictions; the latter ultimately creating a greater risk for both our users and society more generally.

Being a tech startup, we love disrupting the status quo but only if it yields more value for consumers without compromising in other areas – in this case, safety. In this no-win scenario, we decided to that neither option would do and instead we engineered a new solution.

Full Faced, Two Way Protection

Our solution essentially functions as a respirator, combining a modified full face snorkel mask with surgical grade N95 filters that scrub every breath in and out. This eliminates the airborne droplets that are the main path of transmission for the coronavirus while remaining comfortable, splash resistant, and easy to be heard in. With the airborne risk eliminated, infection from the pool water itself is extremely low according to experts.

Why Face Masks or Shields Weren’t Enough

By comparison, face masks or shields alone are half measures

With eased restrictions, standard PPE could be worn but in practice we decided that using a face mask or shield for swimming lessons just wasn’t good enough – here’s why.

1. Face masks get wet and must be discarded

Without teaching from far away, splashing swimmers are likely to cause cloth or surgical masks to soak through. This makes them uncomfortable to wear, difficult to breath in, and much less effective at filtering (Source - CDC).

2. Face shields fail to protect both parties

It is well documented that half masks primarily protect the people around the wearer (Source - BCCDC) while face shields are simply considered an alternative to goggles (Source - CDC). Even when worn together by the instructor, since students won’t be wearing anything, this falls short of the level of protection afforded by our solution.

3. Surgeons treating COVID patients use them

Once we learned that surgeons who ran out of PPE began using snorkels as makeshift respirators, we knew this could be immediately applicable for swimming lessons too.

A New Normal That is Uncompromising

With the creation of this mask, we have enabled our instructors to continue providing the close attention their clients deserve, while simultaneously reducing the risk of contracting or spreading the virus themselves.

The logistics behind sourcing, purchasing, and distributing these masks has been a massive undertaking for our team. Special thanks also goes out to our suppliers who worked tirelessly with our engineering team to provide this innovative and cost efficient solution in time for Canada’s initial lockdown reopening.

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