Face masks can be quite discomforting to wear and there are a lot of reasons not to like them. You have to fiddle with the loops to wear them and after extended wear, they hurt. They also irritate your skin and fog up your glasses and make communication a little difficult.

To foster mask adoption, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) in collaboration with the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, has launched a $500,000 “Mask Innovation Challenge” inviting Americans to submit ideas to make masks more comfortable to wear.

The content is open until April 21 and participants have until then to submit innovative ideas that eliminate concerns with wearing masks while ensuring they are protecting themselves against coronavirus.

In a press statement announcing the contest, Nikki Bratcher-Bowman, the acting assistant secretary for preparedness and response, said “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.”

Contest Requirements and Prizes

Anyone with a unique idea that follows CDC safety guidelines can submit their idea on or before 5 p.m ET on April 21. There are other requirements to enter and win this contest:

1. To receive a price, you must be a US citizen or a legal resident

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

3. Several parameters such as filtration efficiency, inhalation airflow resistance, fit, and other test methods will be used to judge the best design.

 According to HHS, sprays or drugs that can be inhaled or absorbed through the nose, mouth, or skin are not permitted to be used in mask design. NIOSH-approved respirators or FDA-approved surgical masks must not be accessorized or modified for this challenge.

Prototypes to be submitted for the second phase of the content must leverage research on the filtration efficiency of materials and meet other HHS criteria, which include filtration, fit, comfort, and how easily the design can be manufactured on a large scale. More details regarding phase two of the competition will be released in the future.

Over 165 million vaccines have been administered in the United States so far. But despite this, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention still consider wearing masks and other protecting measures the main priority.


Jennifer Billings is the Medical Editor at National Coronavirus Hotline(NCH). She is an Integrated medical doctor who has been published on NCH Blog, Medium.com and is a regular contributor at MedCity News, Physician Family, and Psychology Today.