In a boon not just for the fight against COVID-19 but also for individuals with hearing problems or those who rely on reading lips to communicate, Ford Motor Co. has announced they are ramping up production of clear face masks with N95-level filtration — the level most helpful in controlling and preventing the spread of the coronavirus.
Hannah Denham of the The Washington Post described the effort as “what could be the largest-scale effort [ever] to produce masks specifically designed to improve communication while offering medical-grade protection against the coronavirus.”
According to Denham, while clear masks will help people in all professions — ranging from waiters to police officers — they will also be very beneficial for many in the disabled community.
“Masks make it more difficult to hear what the wearer is saying and impossible for those who rely on lip reading,” she said. “The ability to read facial expressions also is crucial, particularly for those in fields such as education, health care and travel, as most communication is nonverbal.”
In an interview with The Post, Bonnie Sachs, a neuropsychologist at the Wake Forest School of Medicine told Denham that see-through masks could also be very helpful for older individuals.
“Many older adults have some form of hearing loss and may rely heavily on nonverbal cues like facial expression and lip-reading,” Sachs told Denham. “When they can’t see your face as well or they can’t read your lips as well, that may be a challenge because they can’t hear you accurately to complete the cognitive testing.”
Although Ford has been producing face masks, ventilators and face shields since the pandemic first hit the U.S. in March 2020, the new see-through masks are a brand-new product that is likely to become a cornerstone in the company’s efforts to help in the fight against COVID-19.
Ford VP Jim Baumbick who oversaw development of the new clear masks believes their impact will be felt in a number of beneficial ways.
“One of the things that’s missing during the pandemic is the power of a smile,” he said in a press release after unveiling the product. “This clear respirator promises to improve interactions between neighbors, at the store and for those who have hearing impairments.” Elaborating on how masks can help in workers and business, Baumbick added, “when you think about interactions in a work environment and the people who might be … relying on lips to read expressions and understand day-to-day work, that becomes a challenge,” he said. “It literally takes away another sense from somebody.”
Baumbick hopes that by making clear masks that allow for an individual’s lips and emotions to be more visible, communication will be easier not just for people with hearing problems but for those without it as well.
“With the spread of new and more contagious variants of COVID-19, mask-wearing will be crucial to reduce transmission and save lives,” Dr. Christopher Murray, director of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation said in Ford’s press release. “As we await a strong vaccine rollout, something we can all do to protect each other is wear masks and stay socially distanced.”
Pending N95 certification and approval, the washable masks also feature an anti-fog technology that should help glasses wearers. The see-through masks should be available later this spring; pricing and distribution details are to be determined.