Wake County man designs masks for musicians, school bands in effort to reduce COVID-19 spread

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- We now know that aerosol is the main way COVID-19 is transmitted. So it's no surprise that being near people singing or playing a wind instrument is risky.

That's why a former wake county band director designed a mask especially for musicians.

His handiwork is now being used worldwide and may play a role for band students returning to in-person classes.

Early in the pandemic, the best that band directors could do to protect musicians was to cut a hole in a traditional mask and insert a mouthpiece.

"Which pretty much, at that point, removes the impact of wearing the mask, and it also requires them to have to get new masks every single day for class," former band instructor Alan Mason said.

SEE ALSO | Fauci: 'Possible' Americans will be wearing masks in 2022 to protect against COVID-19
EMBED More News Videos

Dr. Anthony Fauci said Sunday that it's "possible" Americans will still need to wear masks in 2022 to protect against the coronavirus.

That was obviously not an ideal solution.

"I knew that it was going to be very important to have somebody create a mask that could be used in the classroom for the kids," he said.

Mason, who lives in Knightdale, formerly worked for Wake County Public School System and Wilson County Schools.

He now sells band equipment.

At the beginning of the pandemic in the spring of 2020, he realized school bands from elementary to college would be hit hard.

"The spring season is very busy for the band world," he said. "There's a lot of concerts; there's a lot of competitions for the guard and the drumline, and I knew that the kids would no longer be able to perform."

Mason felt compelled to come up with something better than a slit in a surgical mask

SEE ALSO | 2 masks are better than 1 but fit is most important factor, UNC researchers say
EMBED More News Videos

The science is in: two masks are better than one...but fit might be the most important factor.

So Mason, who had already been designing uniforms, got on his computer.

He taught himself how to use new software and started designing masks.

"When you have the two layers, you actually can slide the mouthpiece of the instrument through the center of it," Mason demonstrated. "It will actually pull the mask back together to close it and make a seal around the mouthpiece."

Mason had to make a special design for flutes because of the way they are held sideways.

Both the flute mask and the other style music masks are being used by the 82nd Airborne Band at Fort Bragg.

You can see them in this video from the band's Christmas concert.

The army isn't mason's only customer.

After posting his design on Facebook, his new business took off.

"I started getting phone calls from like Washington State, Alaska, had some calls from the Netherlands," Mason explained.

But even though the pandemic hit him in the wallet, he decided not to jack up the price of the masks.

"I tried to keep the pricing low," Mason said. "That was, to me it was more about making it affordable to the programs and less about bringing in the money for me."

Although Mason believes his designs are better than a slit in a surgical mask, they have not been tested in a lab to prove that they're effective at preventing the spread of coronavirus.

So we asked a toxicologist who tests masks for UNC Hospitals to weigh in--although he hasn't tested the masks himself or any other masks with openings.

Phillip Clapp told us, "Wearing a mask that completely covers your nose and mouth is important. I suggest, if you are going to use this type of mask, practice outside if possible and immediately put on a different closed mask when finished playing."

He also cautioned that even outside musicians should maintain at least six feet of social distancing.

Inside, he said, requires many more considerations and much more caution.

If you are interested in Mason's masks you can find out more about them here.
Copyright © 2021 WTVD-TV. All Rights Reserved.