Simple design changes in mask can increase their adoption in communities as well as make them effective for disabled people.
The COVID-19 pandemic has turned the world upside down. Our way of interaction has undergone dramatic shift. Social distancing and wearing face mask has become necessity. The CDC is recommending wearing a face mask made from simple fabric however there are challenges with wearing face mask if it has to be used for sustained period (7-8 hours). The mask warms and recirculates part of the breathe which causes eye glasses to get foggy and the person to smell his/her own breath. To alleviate these problems, a revised design is proposed. As shown in figure 1, the inside of the mask has two annular channels going from mid-mask to each side. These act as ducts to carry away the exhaled air and take fresh air. Additionally, there is a little bulge around mouth area. This will ensure improved quality of inhaled air, no fogging of eye-glasses and the speech of the person is not obstructed because there is enough room for lips to move. These masks can still be sewn at home with slight alteration. The mask has elastic lace at top and a stretchable lace at bottom which can be locked at any position using the locking ball. This will give flexibility to the user if she wants more room surrounding lower part i.e. mouth. This space can be used to have oxygen tube if a person needs it.
Figure 2 shows another variation of the mask. The mask is made up of a little stiff material and at the end there is Velcro strip. The person wears a headband first which has side-arms containing Velcro strips. The bent mask just attaches to the headband in place. This will be suitable for people who have tremors in their hand (due to old age, physical condition etc.) or who have hearing aid machines over the ears etc. There are no straps to be adjusted or worn over ears. The headband is in front of ears and will not obstruct the hearing aid in anyway.
People having hearing problems often rely on lip movements of others to understand the speech. Having a mask over face significantly reduces their input information. Figure 3 shows simple variation of a mask with a transparent plastic sheet in middle which shows the person's mouth. By wearing this mask, the person is helping hard-to-hear people understand his/her communication because the lip movements can be seen clearly. This can be useful for community workers, volunteers, speech therapist to assist their community members.
The elderly people are getting especially hit with double whammy - first they are more susceptible to catching virus because of weakened immune system and secondly, the isolation from family members causes depression. To protect them, family members avoid meeting them which makes the elderly lonely. However, with a revised design as shown in Figure 4, the problem of virus transmission can be largely mitigated. It is proved that copper due to its physical properties is very good in killing COVID-19 virus. The virus cannot survive for more than 4 hours on copper surfaces . The mask shown has copper mesh as second layer. Even if the person gets few droplets (of air particles) from a sick person, these droplets will land on copper mesh and the virus will be destroyed in short amount of time (about 4 hours). On a plastic sheet it can stay up to 2-3 days  so face shields alone are not sufficient to fight the virus. Such masks can be very effective when a person goes to visit old family member in senior living community. The senior people themselves can wear these masks to increase their defense.
Finally, these designs are not exclusive of each other meaning they can be combined to create more safer, more accessible masks.
The more comfortable the masks are, the wider their adoption will be. If sustained use of masks does not come with overhead such as foggy eyeglasses or bad breath, people will automatically use them. Also the message from all bodies of government must be unanimous - you are using mask to protect others and the act makes you a hero, not a zero! The religious leaders can take solid stand in asking their community members to wear mask to protect the elderly and the weak. Also the rock star scientists like Dr. Jim Allison should come forward in giving unequivocal message to the public. At times like these, it does not matter what the scientist's domain is. People look for credibility and if a Nobel winning scientist says something, people will definitely listen to him rather than a politician.
Who will take these actions?
Design 1, 3 and 4 can be easily realized by anybody as long as they have aptitude for building basic stuff. The proposed designs are deliberately low tech so that there is no dependency on manufacturing companies and anybody can adopt them.
Also the maker space community can refine these designs and share the DIY steps over social channels (youtube, facebook, instagram etc.) .
As the effectiveness of masks increases, the more people will start wearing them.
What are the projected costs?
The designs do not include any advanced technology so the cost is just few dollars more than a off-the-shelf or home made cloth mask.
Design 1 and 3 can be developed within a week while as design 2 can be developed in 8-10 days.
About the author(s)
Shailesh Nirgudkar lives in MA, USA and is a software engineer by profession. He likes to work on problems which has societal benefits.
Aug 3, 2020
Brilliant Contribution , Shailesh !
Aug 3, 2020
Thank you very much Krishnendu for your kind words.