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VERIFY: Facebook ad referenced unfinished research for phony mask product

At least one doctor quoted in a Facebook ad about 'salt-coated masks' says he was surprised to see his name associated with a product he had nothing to do with.

With the coronavirus pandemic leading to a surge in interest in face masks, there are some who are trying to cash in at the expense of consumers. 

A Facebook ad recently touted a new product with some bold claims: a salt-spray for face masks that supposedly will kill viruses. 

The ad even claimed it was designed by a NASA engineer and goes so far as to offer testimonials by multiple doctors. But there's a key problem, at least one of the doctors quoted in the ad was surprised to see his name associated with this product.

Credit: VERIFY

The ad appears to have been removed from Facebook. That's unsurprising. There is no evidence this product is anything more than a scam.

Credit: VERIFY

THE QUESTION

Does a salt-solution spray for face masks that is advertised as killing COVID-19 really work?

THE ANSWER

According to one of the doctors quoted in the ad, no. 

While Dr. Hyo-Jick Choi researched and produced a working virus-deactivating salt-coated filter in 2017, it has not yet received further research to make it commercially available.

Dr. Choi stressed when contacted by VERIFY that he was surprised to see his name associated with an ad for this product. 

The product in the ad has not been evaluated by the federal government, and the ad itself discloses that "the FDA has not evaluated any of these claims." 

WHAT WE FOUND

Dr. Choi's research entered the spotlight early in the COVID-19 outbreak as news articles reported on his findings as a possible way to fight its spread. Business Insider reported he had a patent on the technology.

RELATED: How US guidance on wearing masks during coronavirus outbreak has evolved

He told VERIFY that he had heard about mask sellers who had been selling salt-coated masks falsely labelled as virus-killing, but was surprised to find his image, name and quote used in online and social media ads for such a product.

“It looks like they are trying to make profits by sacrificing the safety of the public,” said Choi. Currently there is no such mask commercially available, he said.

His group at the University of Alberta is working on a prototype of a legitimate mask.

“Although we succeeded in making virus-deactivating, salt-coated filters, we need to complete scale-up research to make the final face mask product,” Choi said of his own research..

A mask using salt “cannot be made by simply soaking [a] conventional mask into saline solution. It cannot be made by a D-I-Y process,” he said.

In fact, modifying masks or respirators can damage the fiber in the filters, which will increase bio-contamination, he said. And developing a multiple-layer mask like his requires fine-tuning the correct filtration efficiency, breathability and virus inactivation.

If his own warnings aren't enough to convince you the product may not be what it's advertised as, the ad's own words at the bottoms serve as a decent enough warning.

Credit: VERIFY

Beneath logos of official government agencies, the small text reads, "Note: the FDA has not evaluated any of these claims. Not accepted medical evidence. Claims based on published research available online."

So the ad's claim that it's virus-killing hasn't been evaluated and it's not accepted medical evidence.

The Better Business Bureau, which is not affiliated with the government, has warned about mask scams since early February. They recommend buying from reputable stores or websites.

RELATED: VERIFY: Watch out for coronavirus scams

Choi's recommendation is to stick to government-certified masks which have passed the required testing.

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