“Elastomeric materials have really been a game changer for us,” says Dr. Chalikonda said. “When I think about all the millions of dollars wasted on N95 and then trying to reuse it, I realize how much elastomers are a missed opportunity.”
Federal health officials say they are working as quickly as possible to develop stricter elastomer guidelines. Marianne D’Alessandro, director of the National Laboratory for Personal Protection Technologies, said scientists are reviewing feedback from the study, which distributed nearly 100,000 respirators to hospitals, nursing homes and first responders across the country. “If we can put together a set of tools that will guide organizations and educate users, we hope that will get us off the ground,” she said.
Many mask makers are unlikely to last that long. Max Bock-Aronson, co-founder of Breathe99, which makes an elastomeric respirator that Time magazine named as one of the best inventions of 2020, is phasing out production at the company’s Minnesota plant.
He blamed the drop in sales on Covid fatigue and declining public interest in protective gear. He added that the company’s fortunes were doomed early on due to the CDC’s mask guidance, which prompted Amazon, Google and Facebook to restrict or prohibit the sale medical masks to consumers, even as PPE imports have begun flooding the United States again.
“The whole industry is gutted,” said Mr. Bok-Aronson. “Every time a new option comes out, we get a small increase in sales, but I haven’t taken a dime from the company since May of last year.”
For now, he is focused on finding a buyer for his company by selling his inventory online. The masks cost $59 and can be covered in washable covers in eight colors including raspberry, linen and royal blue.
All sales, as apologetically noted on the website, are final.