Masks (also referred to as “barrier face coverings”) are products worn on the face that provide varying degrees of protection to the wearer and have the potential to filter respiratory secretions from the wearer to help prevent disease transmission to others (i.e., they may provide source control). Many public health agencies worldwide are encouraging their citizens to wear masks when in public spaces in order to reduce the spread of infectious respiratory diseases. However, there remain notable barriers that reduce overall mask usage. These barriers include issues such as contact dermatitis with prolonged wear, physical discomfort, fogging of eyeglasses, and difficulty communicating. In addition, many masks that are currently available tout unconfirmed protective capabilities that lack scientific evidence to support such claims. Overall, there is a need to develop better designs, materials, and technologies that are more acceptable to wearers and that ensure quantified measures of performance.
To address these issues and accelerate the development of the next generation of masks, BARDA and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) have partnered to launch the Mask Innovation Challenge: Building Tomorrow’s Mask. NIOSH is part of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. NIOSH is responsible for conducting research and making recommendations for the prevention of work-related injury and illness. The Mask Innovation Challenge aims to improve the comfort, utility, and protective capabilities of products that are worn during day-to-day activities by the general public when physical distancing is not possible. This competition is designed to support the development of mask designs that meet defined performance standards while also overcoming barriers to use.