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Inventors have raised millions on crowdfunding sites to build better masks

In March, as COVID-19 cases spiked and supplies of N95 protective masks dwindled at the Bay Area hospital where her brother-in-law works, Megan Duong launched a local search for N95s. Along with her sister-in-law, Sabrina Paseman, Duong enlisted volunteers and tracked down 7,000 masks—barely enough to cover the needs of two hospitals for one day. “We just knew that it was not a scalable solution,” Duong said.

So, Duong and Paseman, both former Apple employees, set out to invent a new tool that, they hoped, would make available mask technologies more effective and accessible.

They weren’t the only inventors attempting to meet sudden, massive demand for personal protective equipment, or PPE. Experts say that PPE like masks is critical for slowing the spread of COVID-19. But for much of the pandemic, high-quality PPE has been in short supply for medical workers. Meanwhile, PPE available to the public has been of variable quality, with users complaining that cheap cloth masks, although widely available and recommended by public health agencies, are uncomfortable, hamper social interactions, and have limited effectiveness.

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