The Biden administration launches a $500,000 contest to improve face mask designs

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That’s why the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has launched the $500,000 “Mask Innovation Challenge” to find new and effective masks people will find more comfortable to wear.

Contest participants have until April 21 to submit innovative ideas that would help eliminate common concerns that come with wearing masks while making sure they effectively protect against the coronavirus.

More than 165 million vaccines have been administered in the United States so far, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But masks remain a serious priority.

“We know that properly and consistently worn face masks help reduce the spread of SARS-CoV-2 and other respiratory infections, but many people are reluctant to wear them for a variety of reasons,” Nikki Bratcher-Bowman, the acting assistant secretary for preparedness and response at HHS, said in a press release. “With this mask challenge, we want to get people across the country involved in developing new masks that are both effective and comfortable. This will help us control COVID-19 and be better prepared for future public health emergencies.”

HHS is hosting the contest in collaboration with the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, the agency responsible for leading the charge on the production and purchase of vaccines.

Contest requirements and prizes

Many people try to avoid masks because they can be uncomfortable to breathe through. They can fog up glasses, make it hard to talk to others. And they don’t always fit snugly on people’s faces.

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If you have a unique idea that follows required safety guidelines, you can submit your idea here by 5 p.m. ET on April 21.

You must be a US citizen or legal resident to receive a prize.

Up to 10 winners will be chosen in the first phase of the challenge and will split a $100,000 prize, with each person taking home up to $10,000.

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The masks will be judged by their filtration efficiency, inhalation airflow resistance, fit and other test methods depending on the design.

No masks designs are permitted to use sprays or drugs that can be inhaled or absorbed in the skin, nose or mouth, according to HHS. You may not accessorize or modify NIOSH-approved respirators or FDA-approved surgical masks with anything like filters or additional head straps or ear loops.

During the second phase of the contest, participants can submit prototypes “that leverage research on the filtration efficiency of materials and meet the criteria including filtration, fit, comfort, and how easily the design can be manufactured on large scale,” the HHS release said.

The prototypes will be tested to see if they meet filtration and airflow resistance criteria. And five winners will be chosen to split a $400,000 prize.

More details will be provided in the future regarding phase two of the competition.

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