Clear masks are made with the deaf community in mind, but they could be an essential tool for caregivers and teachers everywhere.
Face masks are now a necessary tool in our daily routines, but like everything else in life, one size doesn't fit all — and new face mask designs are being released frequently. Early on in the pandemic, it became clear that the deaf and hard-of-hearing (DHH) community faced a significant disadvantage when it came to face masks, as many rely on reading lips to effectively communicate. Enterprising sewers thought of a way to incorporate clear windows into face masks, but as more manufacturers create face masks that meet public guidelines set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, shoppers are now able to buy clear face masks if they can't make them at home.
These clear face masks are crucial for the DDH community, but they may also be a vast improvement for caregivers in a senior facility or even teachers in a classroom, explains Robert Amler, M.D., the vice president for government affairs at New York Medical College and former CDC chief medical officer on the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. "Even people who are not hard of hearing can understand you better when you're speaking and they can see your mouth moving," Dr. Amler says, adding that smiles, grimaces, or other facial expressions are key in many settings. "[Expressions] is also part of our communication, and some may be a lot happier working and living together in the long haul if we can see each other's mouths."
Because this is a newer product, only a few retailers have created manufactured masks that are appropriate for long-term use thus far. Most of the clear face masks available to buy online currently come from third-party sellers on sites like Etsy, which means most people are sewing their own DIY clear face masks at home. If you've sewn face masks before, or are looking to make your first project a clear mask for your own household, there are free templates you can use to create a safe option for use.
The DIY creators at Cricut have partnered with the Hearing Loss Association of America to donate window masks to the DHH community, in addition to donating more than 1 million masks to communities across the country. In doing so, the company has created a free clear face mask pattern that's made with a vinyl window — sewers can complete the project at home with step-by-step instructions and templates. Making these items yourself can ensure the mask is closely aligned with CDC guidelines for proper fit.
Face masks largely reduce the spread of the novel coronavirus by keeping asymptomatic people from spewing infectious particles into crowded spaces. A June review published in The Lancet demonstrates that wearing a mask curbs the transmission of SARS-CoV-2 in public: "If somebody is wearing a mask, and they are infected, it is far less likely for the people around them to get infected, as long as these people are wearing what [doctors] call 'source control,' a control at the source of the droplets," Dr. Amler adds.
Dr. Amler says there's no definitive evidence yet on whether a cloth-based mask is superior in terms of transmission prevention compared to a clear face mask; medical-grade respirators are still superior to most options, but are reserved for medical professionals. Cloth-based face masks are best when made with tightly-woven fabrics, and the same is true for clear face masks. Dr. Amler says it's crucial to look for the following when buying a clear face mask:
The biggest mistake that people can make when wearing clear masks, Dr. Amler explains, is to remove it in public due to condensation build up. Just like any other face mask, you'll need to wash your hands before handling a clear mask, and you should be in a private setting when doing so. You'll need to disinfect or sanitize your mask after each use, and if it's made with certain materials, washing and drying them might melt the smile window altogether. If you plan to regularly use clear face masks, try buying multiples so you can ease the wear and tear on each.
Below, we're sharing our the best picks to buy if you are unable to make a clear face mask at home: