• The Biden administration launched a $500,000 contest to find innovative mask ideas
  • The contest will only grant prizes to American citizens and residents
  • The designs cannot modify approved surgical masks or respirators

The Biden administration has launched a $500,000 contest for new COVID-19 face mask ideas that would improve filtration efficiency and remove problems associated with everyday mask wearing, such as fogged glasses and irritated skin.

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) unit will host the “Mask Innovation Challenge.” Americans have until April 21 to submit their ideas for the contest, which will only accept ideas from and give prizes to U.S. citizens, legal residents and U.S.-owned businesses operating in the country. 

“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, HHS acting assistant secretary for preparedness and response, said in the 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,” she added. 

The mask ideas should address a number of frustrations that have come with mask wearing, including speech intelligibility, physical discomfort, fogging of eyeglasses and difficulty fitting with certain facial features.  

The administration will select up to 10 winners in the first phase of the challenge and split a $100,000 prize. This means each of the 10 winning contestants will take home up to $10,000. Entrees will be judged on how the submitted ideas improve upon existing designs and how they incorporate materials not used currently.

During the second phase of the Mask Innovation Challenge, BARDA would choose mask 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 press release read. 

The federal health agency will choose five winners who will split a $400,000 prize, with each taking home up to $80,000. 

The mask designs cannot use any sprays or drugs that can be inhaled, and cannot accessorize or modify FDA-approved surgical masks or NIOSH-approved respirators with additional head straps, filters or ear loops. 

In February, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky urged Americans to wear multiple masks or devices as an extra way of curbing the spread of COVID-19. 

"As we see increases in cases, we can't afford to let our guard down. We are so close — so very close to getting back to the everyday activities we all miss so much, but we're not quite there yet," Walensky said at a White House press briefing

"We need to keep taking the mitigation measures, like wearing a mask and social distancing, as we continue to get more and more Americans vaccinated every single day," she added. 

US President Joe Biden welcomed a strong jobs report for March 2021, and gave credit for the encouraging figures to his $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan US President Joe Biden welcomed a strong jobs report for March 2021, and gave credit for the encouraging figures to his $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Photo: AFP / MANDEL NGAN