Coronavirus Puts Spotlight on Clear-Window Surgical Masks

David Copithorne

Content Director

12 March 2020

Last year, when I accompanied my wife to a series of visits to City of Hope Hospital in Southern California, I was stymied by health care workers and other patients wearing surgical masks. Traditional surgical masks not only muffle speech; they make lipreading completely impossible. As someone with severe hearing loss, I could never be sure of what the professionals were saying, and asking for constant repeats increased my anxiety. Communicating with patients was an even bigger challenge, because I didn’t want to invade their personal space by leaning in to hear better.

Accessible Mask Blurred

The Communicator™ Clear Window Surgical Mask eliminates lipreading problems while providing FDA-approved ASTM Level 1 protection.

Initially, I wondered why no one had come up with a see-through surgical mask to enable lipreading. But then a quick Google search revealed that someone already had. Our resulting story about Dr. Anne McIntosh and her Safe’N’Clear Communicator™ Clear Window Surgical Mask hit a nerve. The story went viral, and thousands of people (from doctors and nurses to everyday people) expressed an urgent need for the solution.

In addition to explaining the speech-reading benefits of a transparent surgical mask, Dr. McIntosh was also forthcoming about the challenges the medical industry faces in providing enough surgical masks to those who need them. Her masks are made in America, where manufacturers are faced with a huge backlog of orders for all kinds of surgical masks. Manufacturers have already complained about the lack of foresight by the government and large customers who failed to stockpile more of them.

Coronavirus renews interest in clear-window masks

With Coronavirus, more people are wearing surgical masks than ever. In fact, even while experts have debated the effectiveness of the masks, rapid growth in demand has led to a global supply shortage. As more and more people put on the masks, more and more faces are hidden to those—like myself—who rely on lipreading to communicate. That's why it's time to take another look at an obvious solution that should get far more attention: clear-window surgical masks.

Katharine Bouton, an influential hearing-loss-advice author, published a short post pointing to efforts of another company (ClearMask) to come up with a clear-window surgical mask for professionals and patients. Among other things, she is recommending that the Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA) start advocating for their use. She also posted an extremely helpful longer article on Coronavirus and People with Hearing Loss.

Clearmask

The ClearMask™ is the first, patent-pending transparent surgical mask with full-face visibility.

DIY to the rescue

Ashley Lawrence, a senior studying education for the deaf and hard of hearing at Eastern Kentucky University, is putting self-isolation time to good use by making hearing-loss accessible masks out of bed sheets with her mother. Ashley is shipping the masks for free, and she may be reached at dhhmaskproject@gmail.com. She also has a gofundme setup to help with the ongoing costs.

Diy Masks

Ashley Lawrence (left) and her mother made their first batch of hearing-loss accessible masks out of bed sheets. Original image via LEX18.

When healthcare providers don’t wear masks

Outside of the hospital environment, surgical masks are far less common. So is it safe to visit your PCP, optometrist, or audiologist during the Coronavirus pandemic? That may be an individual choice, but if you do, you will want to make sure your provider is following rigorous safety guidelines. Karl Strom, editor of Hearing Review, recently published an excellent post on the steps all hearing healthcare professionals should take to protect their patients and themselves.