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We need better face masks—and origami might help

Topic: We need better face masks—and origami might help

FOR RICHARD GORDON, origami is like a piece of music. While an individual fold may not be particularly impressive, many together can make the paper sing. A floppy sheet can transform into a flapping bird, a floating boat, a blooming flower, or in the case of Gordon’s latest endeavor, a face mask.

“It’s a kind of alchemy,” says Gordon, the founder and CEO of Air99 LLC.

Gordon is one of a growing number of mask designers who see the promise of better fit, function, and even fashion in the ancient art of origami. He began crafting masks more than a decade ago in Suzhou, China, when he couldn’t find a mask that properly fit his son to protect against air pollution. But the pandemic has given Gordon and other designers’ work fresh urgency.

As we wait our turn in the vaccination line, donning a mask is a critical measure—along with social distancing, ventilation, faster testing, and more—to help slow the spread of SARS-CoV-2. Newly inaugurated President Joe Biden is calling for all Americans to wear a mask during the first 100 days of his term, and he signed new executive orders requiring masks in federal buildings, on federal lands, and on many planes, trains, public ships, city busses, and in airports.

“We’re entering what may be the toughest and deadliest period of the virus,” Biden said during the inauguration. “We must set aside politics and finally face this pandemic as one nation.”

Masks may also become a mainstay after the pandemic to help keep both viruses and pollution at bay. While masking is already part of daily life in other countries, that hadn’t been the case for the United States. But a recent National Geographic and Morning Consult poll signaled a shifting attitude in the U.S. toward masking up. Some 63 percent of 2,200 American adults said they would continue to always or sometimes wear a mask while running errands post-pandemic. A similar number, around 64 percent, said they would turn to masks to fend off air pollution. And 67 percent said they would mask up during flu season.

Yet there’s a long list of mask complaints. Some flat coverings quickly turn into moist bits of cloth pressed across your face. Others can lead to a feeling of suffocation, even though cloth and medical masks allow plenty of oxygen through for healthy adults. And while all masks afford some level of viral protection, some are more effective than others. Origami holds promise to help alleviate many of these woes.

Topic Discussed: We need better face masks—and origami might help

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