Communication Challenges and Covid-19: The case of the Face Mask
Among the outcomes of Covid-19 has been the realisation that we now need to wear appropriate face masks, whenever possible, to minimise the risk of either catching or transmitting the virus. Medical papers provide useful updates on the effectiveness of various face coverings. For instance, the tweet below is from the British Medical Journal.
However, what sometimes gets lost in the consideration of such face masks is the impact they have on communication, firstly in relation to the muffling of the voice and reduced clarity that results; and secondly in respect of the impact on those that rely on lip-reading to enhance their understanding of what is being said. It appears that even one emminent leader has difficulty understanding people speaking while wearing a mask:
The UK government has also acknowledged the challenges associated with the second problem, namely the difficulties posed by face masks for those that rely on lip-reading.
The UK government has also acknowledged the challenges posed to those who rely on lip-reading to enhance their understanding. It is therefore heartening that the government has recently announced that it has acquired 250,000 ClearMasks to enable NHS and care workers to “communicate with people with certain conditions like hearing loss, autism, dementia … people with learning disabilities, … or foreign language speakers and their interpreters.”
A “deal with US-based company ClearMask will see 250,000 masks delivered to NHS trusts and social care providers across the UK over the next few weeks.” If you have not seen the ClearMask in action before, the following video from NBC News might prove instructive:
The potential benefits are significant. According to the government press release, “The masks are see-through and have an anti-fogging barrier to ensure the face and mouth are always visible to help doctors, nurses and carers communicate better with their patients.
With around 12 million people in the UK thought to have hearing loss, the masks will be invaluable for people who need to lip-read to communicate during the ongoing response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and beyond.”
Initial feedback from charities, doctors and government ministers has been positive.