Some promotional products pros believe increasing calls for wearing two masks to protect against COVID spread could fuel an uptick in mask sales for the industry.
Such is the message a growing number of health officials are sending to the public when it comes to face masks – and that has potential implications on sales and in-person work operations in the promotional products industry.
Among other health experts, Dr. Anthony Fauci, chief medical adviser to President Joe Biden, recently said wearing two masks at once “likely does” offer better protection against the spread of COVID-19. “It just makes common sense,” he told The Today Show.
There’s a chance the calls for double-masking will increase as new, more contagious variants of the virus, first seen abroad in places like the United Kingdom, gain wider circulation in the United States. A mutated version of COVID could become the dominant strain in the U.S., possibly by March, say some immunologists, including Fauci.
According to accounts from distributors and suppliers, the personal protective equipment market has become extremely competitive and mask sales for promo companies have retreated from the heights the industry experienced last summer. “PPE was hot last year and is still doing OK, but it has become extremely commoditized and the market is crowded,” said Ryan Moor, CEO of apparel supplier Allmade (asi/34341) and Ryonet (asi/528500), an apparel decoration supply and education firm.
Nonetheless, promo’s focus on masks increased in January 2021. Compared to December 2020, search terms like “face masks” and “mask” rose by 20% and 12%, respectively in ESP – ASI’s database of products from across the promotional products industry. That suggests end-client interest in masks could have accelerated since the end of last year.
ASI research shows that interest in masks increased in January 2021, with searches for the terms “face masks” and “mask” rising compared to the prior month.
Now, with talk about double-masking on the up and the possibility that it could become an officially recommended (or even locally mandated) practice, some in promo are wondering if there could be a surge in demand for masks, leading to a renewed jump in mask sales for the industry.
So far, there isn’t a firm consensus. However, some indeed see opportunity. For one thing, they believe that end-clients will want more quality masks to provide to employees, whether they’re working from home or at an in-person facility/job site.
Double-masking “could certainly breathe life back into the mask market,” said Chris Bernat, partner at South Carolina-based Vapor Apparel (asi/93396). Vapor’s gaiters have been popular sellers as face coverings during the pandemic. “I think the concept of a customized ‘cover’ mask could maximize this trend,” Bernat added.
Howard Potter also sees some sales potential. To capitalize, promo pros will have to bring something unique to the table, such as on-point solutions for customized graphics/messaging for the face coverings, said Potter, CEO of Utica, NY-based A&P Master Images (asi/102019). “If you learn to become very creative with them, that can help increase sales,” said Potter. “It’s the same as being creative with the solutions you’ve been providing on T-shirts for years.”
Other industry executives don’t expect a public health emphasis on wearing two masks to have much of an effect on sales of the face coverings within promo.
“Beyond safety, masks have evolved into fashion statements,” said Jo-an Lantz, CEO/president of Lewiston, ME-based Top 40 distributor Geiger (asi/202900). “I don’t think double masks will have a substantive impact on providing a lift to existing mask sales in our industry.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the U.S.’s foremost public health authority, is currently studying whether wearing two masks is more effective than wearing one for curbing the spread of the coronavirus. “More data will be forthcoming,” said CDC Director Rochelle Walensky recently.
Even so, like Fauci, some immunology experts already say there are definite benefits to properly wearing two quality-made masks. A recent study found that double-masking can produce 70% to 90% efficacy when it comes to filtering particles that can cause COVID. That compares to around 50% efficacy from just wearing a surgical mask or nonmedical cloth mask alone.
The masks work by blocking respiratory droplets that harbor the virus and carry it from person to person. “The more physical barriers implemented, the more of these droplets you can block, thereby reducing the risk to yourself and others around you,” Andrea Love, an immunologist and microbiologist, told CNET.
Should double masking be recommended by the CDC, promotional products companies that have employees at physical locations like manufacturing facilities, printing facilities, warehouse/distribution centers and offices would have to consider taking the advice seriously and requiring that workers wear two masks. If state and local authorities were to mandate the wearing of two masks in situations that extend to the workplace, promo companies within such jurisdictions would have to comply or face potential legal/liability issues.
For double-masking to be effective, it’s important that it be done correctly, health experts point out. While wearing two cloth masks can help, an even better approach is to wear a cloth mask on top of a disposable surgical mask. This mimics a filter-cloth combo that some studies indicate enhances protection against COVID spread.
To get the combination right, ensure the surgical mask has a water-resistant layer and nonwoven layer made of polypropylene, which aids in trapping disease-bearing particles. Cloth masks should be breathable and made from a protective, washable, tightly woven fabric that has multiple layers. The CDC says it’s essential that the masks fit snugly so that particles don’t escape. The masks should completely cover your nose and mouth. Don’t wear masks that have exhalation valves or vents that allow particles to escape.
“Double-masking,” Dr. Stuart Cohen, chief of infectious diseases and director of hospital epidemiology and infection control at UC Davis, told Rolling Stone, “is a way of trying to turn your regular mask into more of an N95-type situation — where it’s tighter, where you’ve added an extra layer, where the virus droplets have to do a lot more dancing to get through. So, it protects both you and the people that you’re with.”