Coronavirus: Hospital using transparent masks to better communicate with hearing-impaired patients

Coronavirus: Hospital using transparent masks to help communicate better with hearing-impaired patients

BOSTON — Nathan Hubley of Massachusetts was born hard of hearing. He is now 19 years old and about to graduate from North Quincy High School.

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“My son relies a lot on lip-reading and facial expressions for situational cues,” said his mother, Kathryn Hubley.

Hubley is grateful to see new face masks that many staff members at Brigham and Women's Hospital, such as American sign language interpreter James Wiggins, are now wearing.

“I went into the room, and you can just see the heaviness just fall off their face because they’re like, ‘Oh, I can see you talking to me. I can read your lips.’ It’s been amazing,” Wiggins told Boston's WFXT.

With the COVID-19 pandemic forcing Wiggins and all hospital staff to wear face masks, Brigham and Women’s quickly realized this was creating communication barriers for patients who are deaf, hard of hearing or elderly. Since those patients often rely on lip-reading to communicate, the hospital procured and distributed 500 transparent masks.

“It’s really an example of how COVID has pushed us to be even more thoughtful and be even better in terms of health equity and thinking about the needs of all of our patients,” said Dr. Cheri Blauwet, a Brigham and Women’s physician and director of disability access and awareness at Partners Continuing Care.

For those with hearing loss or who are hearing-impaired, the clear masks can be game-changers.

"This is something else that will help people feel a little bit better. In these trying times, people are so afraid and they’re scared, and this will help out a lot to relieve that," Hubley said.

Blauwet said the face masks are approved by the Food and Drug Administration and offer the same level of safety you would get from any surgical mask.

However, they don’t give the same level of protection as an N95 mask. In hospital settings where you’re required to use and N95 mask, you cannot use a transparent face mask.

Stock photo of face masks.
Stock photo of face masks. (Marko Klaric / EyeEm / Getty Images)