Fashionable Face Masks Are in the Spotlight as Coronavirus Crisis Grows

The fashion conscious are looking beyond the medical supply stores and corner pharmacies to get their masks from top designers. MLADEN ANTONOV/AFP via Getty Images

As health concerns surrounding the outbreak of China’s coronavirus skyrocket around the world, so have sales of filtered face masks. The coronavirus is an airborne virus, so it can be spread by people coughing and sneezing. As of Friday morning, there have been at least 636 deaths from the virus with more 31,000 cases in 25 countries.

Under the current circumstances Chinese health officials have made it mandatory for people to wear face masks when in public in at least two provinces of China in an effort to contain the virus.

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In the United States, the virus is not common enough for this to be a sensible precaution for everyone. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is not currently recommending the use of face masks among the general public. Regardless, pharmacies across the country from New York to Texas have sold out of face masks. On Amazon, suppliers for both surgical masks and N95 respirators (which filter out airborne particles) have been on backorder.

As Observer reported last week, masks are intended for those who are already sick to limit the spread of the virus. Masks should be used more as a courtesy, to protect others from your germs.

The fashion conscious are looking beyond the medical supply stores and corner pharmacies to get their masks from top designers. On last week’s episode of Saturday Night Live, cast member Bowen Yang stopped by ‘Weekend Update’ to play a character advertising “Burberry surgical masks” to poke fun at the trend.

While, in reality, Burberry might not actually be selling these products, the market demand suggests maybe they should. Fashionable face masks have been popular in Asia for quite some time due to pollution, climate change and other health scares. This industry has been dominated by two U.S. companies: 02Today and Vogmask.

San Francisco-based Vogmask, which launched in 2011, has become one of the major players in the business. Vogmask was started primarily for festival goers in the desert but has quickly adapted to serve for health and humanitarian crises. According to Vox, notably after the 2018 Camp Fire, the deadliest and most destructive wildfire in California’s history, Vogmask saw sales increase to 10 time their normal level. Vogmasks have a N99 filter, a carbon filter layer and an exhale valve. They currently sell 35 different masks with varying patterns made from microfiber and organic materials.

O2Today, based in Salt Lake City, Utah, has also seen a surge in sales of their O2SafeAir masks. In fact, currently all of the company’s products are sold out. The fashionable and personalized face masks are designed by Dutch product designer Marcel Wanders, who has been behind notable projects with companies ranging from KLM and Puma to Louis Vuitton. The masks include essential oil mists and offer personalized scents. It is not yet clear when new masks will be available.

Masks can help limit those who are already sick from spreading the virus further. Health officials, such as Dr. Celine Gounder, clinical assistant professor at the NYU School of Medicine and Bellevue Hospital and host of the podcast American Diagnosis, suggest that in addition to making sure caretakers and the sick wear masks, everyone should continue washing their hands and keep hand sanitizers, like Purell, readily available.

Fashionable Face Masks Are in the Spotlight as Coronavirus Crisis Grows