JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — An Alaska company is developing personal protective equipment with clear face shields to benefit people with hearing disabilities during the coronavirus pandemic.

Rapid Response PPE of Juneau developed masks with clear plastic areas so people who are hard of hearing and rely on facial cues or lip reading can communicate effectively, The Juneau Empire reported Saturday.

The company produced a standard mask with a clear shield over the wearer’s mouth and another model with a clear shield over the whole face, Rapid Response founder Hal Daugherty said.

Rapid Response began focusing on hearing-impaired masks after being contacted by Northland Audiology and Hearing Service in Juneau, which works with clients on hearing disorders and remedies.

“As soon as you put a mask on, you lose about 10-15 decibels,” Northland co-owner Kaia Rongstad said. “In communication, people rely on hearing, but they also rely on facial cues.”

Regular masks can protect from the exchange of contagions but also hinder communication for people with hearing difficulties, Rongstad said.


“People with hearing loss rely on lip reading and facial cues even if they don’t realize they rely on it. It basically becomes impossible for them to understand,” Rongstad said.

By using the masks with clear portions, Rongstad said Northland was able to reopen safely.

“Our patients can see our full facial expressions and that’s really good,” Rongstad said. “We’re wearing those for the foreseeable future. We’re finally going to be opening up and we’re doing it as safely as possible.”

For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death. The vast majority of people recover.