Reprinted from Forbes Magazine 5-19-20
Unique Coronavirus Masks Allow You To Gobble Food Like Pac-Man, Sip Through A Straw, Or Show Your Smile
Imagine going to a restaurant with your pandemic face mask securely placed around your nose and mouth and then leaving it on as you enjoy your meal.
Impossible, you say?
An Israeli company, Avtipus Patents and Inventions, has created a prototype for a remote controlled mask that it plans to manufacture in the coming months. Company officials have already applied for a patent.
Here’s how it works: there’s a slot on the front of the mask to allow food to pass through. All a wearer has to do is squeeze a lever (similar to a hand break on a bicycle) to control opening and closing the mask.
Asaf Gitelis, company vice president, says it also opens automatically when the fork is coming to the mask.
A designer in New Orleans found a solution for mask wearers who want to enjoy a cocktail or other beverage without taking their masks off.
Ellen Macomber got the idea when one of her friends called and said, “I was just leaving the grocery store and I wanted a to-go drink, but I couldn’t because of the mask.”
That sparked the inspiration of designing a mask with a hole for a straw.
Ellen and her husband were already feeling the economic pinch of the pandemic. He lost his job and all of her projected 2020 income from festivals and shows dried up instantly due to event cancellations. Even after she had to move her studio into her house, she wanted to find a way to help herself instead of applying for government assistance and loans.
The straw mask idea hit at the right time and she was able to put herself and her assistant back to work.
They created a mask with a seam down the middle of the front with a small opening at the mouth. They added a small third layer on the inside—a small square of fabric sewed down on two sides—to serve as a flap. When you stick the straw in, it pushes that trap door open so you can drink, and when you remove it, it shuts to keep the mask closed.
Ellen says this works best with a metal straw.
This is a solution for friends who want to gather, yet practice safe social distancing. They can meet up for a social outing and drink without taking their masks off.
She also makes masks without a straw hole for trips to the grocery store or other activities.
The new enterprise isn’t without pitfalls. She says she’s received hate mail from those who accuse her of selling a mask that won’t protect against coronavirus. She doesn’t disagree with their claim, saying, “These masks aren’t here to save you. They just minimize spraying when you talk or cough.”
“I just wanted to do something fun and different and have an option for people,” she says. “People are thirsting for cocktails and thirsting for something fun. I just consider this a costume change or another way for us as social people to function.”
Want to sip? Just unzip
Three Texas women recently came up with the idea to produce masks with a zipper front.
The idea sparked while childhood friends Haley Manley and Sarah Cordill were on a Facetime call.
“Sarah had a mask on and she was trying to drink water,” explains Haley. “She spilled it all over herself. I’m an epidemiologist. I graduated from Columbia University with my MPH. While I don’t really have the statistics, I thought exposing your whole face defeats the purpose.”
She thought, ‘What if you could drink without exposing your whole face?’
Sarah, who received degrees in Nutrition and Public Health from the University of Texas at Austin, helped Haley brainstorm creating a zippered mask, and they solicited the design help of another friend, jewelry designer Madison Herington.
“We got a prototype going and we had Sarah’s mom help us sew it,” says Haley.
They then began producing and selling their masks through their company, Shut Your Mouth.
“We want people to stay hydrated and we include a reuseable straw with every purchase,” says Haley. “We are also giving back by supporting Charity Water, which establishes clean water systems in developing countries.”
Haley says their masks can be helpful if combined with social distancing measures and careful hand washing.
“Our masks are not CDC or FDA approved, but we think they can be helpful,” says Haley. “We give instructions with every package. We advise washing it after every use and you should only touch the zipper when wearing it. Only open it when you are taking a sip of water and then close it back up. If you leave it open, it defeats the purpose of the face cover.”
She also says the zipper is far enough away from their mouth that wearers don’t need to worry about accidentally zipping their lips.
Masks that aid the deaf
The National Institute of Deafness and Other Communication Disorders reports that 37.5 million adults ages 18 and older in the U.S. are deaf or have some form of hearing difficulty.
Life, these days, can be particularly challenging for the hearing impaired because traditional face masks prevent them from reading lips or getting clues from some facial expressions.
A positive solution involves face masks that have a see-through front.
The ClearMask company is currently taking preorders on its product, which it bills as the “first fully transparent face mask.”
Other designs are sure to emerge as the Covid-19 pandemic continues.