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Biden administration launches $500,000 public contest to improve face masks

A public contest to improve the design of face masks has been launched by the Biden administration.

The appeal on Wednesday offers $500,000 (£361,000) in cash incentives for anyone willing to reinvent face masks, which have been worn by millions since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.

In an announcement, acting assistant secretary for preparedness and response, Nikki Bratcher-Bowman, said the contest is seeking improvements to make masks both more effective and comfortable.

She recognised that face coverings were uncomfortable for some, and that such issues prevented wider compliance with state-wide mandates.

The contest, named the “Mask Innovation Challenge”, follows recent criticism of a number of states for lifting mandates on mask wearing – while infections continue to rise throughout the US.

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“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,” said Ms Bratcher-Bowman on Wednesday.

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Among the reasons identified by the preparedness and response agency were “breathability, comfort, uncertainty about effectiveness, and fogged glasses”, in addition to the concerns of disabled wearers.

“With this mask challenge, we want to get people across the country involved in developing new masks that are both effective and comfortable,” Ms Bratcher-Bowman continued. “This will help us control Covid-19 and be better prepared for future public health emergencies.”

Submissions to the contest, which is being organised by agencies of the US department of health and the US Centres for Disease and Control and Prevention (CDC), are due to be shortlisted following the competition deadline on 21 April.

Each of the top 10 ideas will be eligible to receive $10,000 each, before $400,000 is split between up to five winners, if their face masks pass a federal testing process.

In February, the CDC issued updated advice on wearing more than one face mask to reduce the risk of infection, following a study.

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