An Israeli company went public with a curious invention this week: a mask with a face opening that allows you to eat without removing it. The mask is one potential solution to the ongoing debate over how to safely dine at a restaurant in a post-pandemic world — but it has some pitfalls.
According to Reuters, the mask is operated by remote control. Simply squeeze a lever and the mask’s mouth opens, allowing the wearer to pass food through the opening. This mechanical opening and closing motion in an effort to consume nutrients has earned the invention a cute nickname: The Pac Man mask.
“Then you can eat, enjoy, drink and you take out the fork and it will be closed, and you’re protected against the virus and other people sitting with you,” the mask’s inventor, Asaf Gitelis, told reporters at a recent demonstration of the mask.
While the effort to make restaurant dining rooms immune to the spread of infection is admirable, the mask is a little disturbing looking in practice, and would likely become unsightly during the course of the meal were it to become stained with food, thereby ruining the experience of going out to eat in the first place.
There’s also the very practical concern that if the mask opens to allow the wearer to eat (thereby opening his or her own mouth) accompanying diners would be exposed to any germs released while the mask is open — which would render wearing the mask pointless.
The idea is similar to a mask invented by a clothing designer in New Orleans which features a hole in the front that fits a straw, making it easier to sip a cocktail or ice coffee while keeping your face covered. It’s in line with other ideas for ways to safely reopen restaurants, including plastic barriers between diners to prevent transmission. These efforts are well-intentioned. There are no easy solutions to the challenges posed by COVID-19 as the world reopens; however a mask that opens to let you eat — thus exposing yourself and others to unwanted germs — just doesn’t seem like it will pass muster.