“For us, elastomers really were a game changer,” said Dr. Chalikonda. “When I think of all the millions of dollars wasted on N95s and then try to reuse them, you realize how many elastomers are a missed opportunity.”
Federal health officials say they are moving as quickly as possible to produce stronger guidance on elastomers. Maryann D’Alessandro, director of the National Laboratory for Personal Protective Technology, said scientists were reviewing feedback from a study that distributed nearly 100,000 ventilators to hospitals, nursing homes and first responders across the country. “If we can put together a toolkit that guides organizations and educates users, we hope it can help move the needle,” she said.
Many mask entrepreneurs probably won’t last that long. Max Bock-Aronson, co-founder of Breathe99, which makes an elastomeric respirator that Time magazine included in its list of the best inventions of 2020, has been closing operations at the company’s Minnesota plant.
He blamed the drop in sales on Covid fatigue and declining public interest in protective gear. The company’s fortunes, he added, were doomed from the start by the CDC’s mask guidance, which led Amazon, Google and Facebook to limit or ban the sale of medical-grade masks to consumers, even as imports of PPE once again began to flood the United States.
“The entire industry has been destroyed,” Mr. Bock-Aronson said. “Every time there’s a new variant, we get a little bump in sales, but I haven’t gotten a penny out of the company since last May.”
For now, he’s focused on finding a buyer for his business while selling his inventory online. The masks cost $59 and can be encased in washable covers that come in eight colors, including crimson, linen and royal blue.
All sales, the website apologetically notes, are final.