In a recent article from the Atlantic, the future of masking, according to some scientists, is discussed. It's an interesting take on the future of masking, and it's worth reading if you consider yourself a mask enthusiast, as we do!
The article opens by discussing how the pandemic has been, in many ways, a success for modern medicine. The vaccines were highly effective and introduced faster than any other vaccine in human history. However, despite the success of vaccines, many deaths occurred before the vaccines were introduced and while they were being rolled out.
More interventions are needed during this time and even after being vaccinated as vaccines are not preventive. We need a way to guard ourselves before pharmaceutical interventions are needed. Of course, we already have exactly the item we need - masks. The only way we can prevent COVID from spreading is to clean the air; the best way to do this is with masks.
While other methods are being tried - increasing ventilation in indoor spaces and introducing germicidal lighting are but two - introducing these methods will take considerable time and investment.
Another method that requires considerably less investment and time is to create more effective masks. Throughout COVID-19, we've primarily relied on N95s, and these have performed well. With a 95% filtration rate of 0.3-micron particles, these devices are highly effective at protecting us from airborne viruses.
However, experts worry about the potential of a future airborne pandemic with a higher lethality. In the article, the example given ranges from 40-70% lethality. Either way, wearing a mask with 95% filtration against a virus with 40% or greater lethality is not at all confidence-inspiring.
Of course, there are also other issues with N95s today. They can quickly become uncomfortable, they're not reusable and therefore quickly become expensive, and no models fit everyone. For these reasons, further innovation is needed in the mask space.
While the experts in the article envision elastomeric respirators as the way forward, this currently seems unlikely due to people's adverse reactions to them. Due to this, the federal government is running a competition to spur the development of new and innovative masks - many of which are already proving to be more effective than standard N95s.
If you're curious in reading the full article, you can do so here.