WVU Choir Director creates the perfect mask for performing arts students

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Juwan Johnson, vocal performance senior, tests the Teacher’s mask in a lab at WVU Health Sciences on August 5, 2020 (photos Chris Young of WVU).

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – The director of choral activities at WVU, Kym Scott, has created a “performer’s mask” for her students. The mask allows them to continue their performing arts education, while maintaining safety during the pandemic.

Scott, a former wedding dress designer, created a mask that projects a few inches away from the face and has a sturdy, lightweight framework that keeps the wearer from sucking in the fabric. Scott also created a, “teacher’s mask,” designed for teachers and public speakers.

“Personally, I was struggling with wearing cloth masks and having conversations with people, finding the sound very muffled. It can be difficult to understand. So I thought, if I’m going to be teaching and speaking with a mask on all day, I need to create something that’ll get me past those challenges.”

Kym Scott

During the development of these masks, Scott reached out to the researchers at the WVU Center for Inhalation Toxicology (iTOX), where they conducted a fit test. This test evaluates how well a mask protects the person wearing the mask.

Scott’s masks scored a 4. Disposable face coverings or over-the-ear cloth masks tend to only score a 1 or 2 on the fit test. A score of 100 is necessary to pass a N95 mask.

“What a fit factor of four means is that for every four small particles outside the mask, only one is getting in. Nothing is 100 percent but that is significant and can make a person feel much safer,” said Karen Woodfork, of iTOX and teaching associate professor of physiology and pharmacology.

According to Woodfork, the mask contains one layer of cotton on the outside, a layer of non-woven polypropylene – which acts as a filtration material – and another layer of cotton on the inside.

While Woodfork insists it is still important to maintain social distance and wash your hands, the masks created by Kym Scott represent a level of protection that isn’t seen in your average, over-the-counter, two-layer cloth and cotton mask.

Scott envisioned her masks to enhance the classroom experience, however, they might find their way to serve outside the college campus.

The assistant professor of music therapy in the School of Medicine, Hannah Bush, hopes to utilize the masks out in the community in places such as nursing homes, daycares and public schools for therapy sessions.

“As a music therapist, I utilize music to work on non-musical goals, such as utilizing singing to work on breath support and speech enunciation, and even utilizing scenes to elevate mood and bring positivity. The performance mask allows the extra space for singing, but we also know that it’s stopping those aerosols.”

Hannah Bush

According to Scott, Frostburg State University in Maryland is already using them. Other universities and high schools, across the country and Canada, have also sent inquires to her in regards to her masks.

Creative Arts students, including singing and theater majors, will be given a performer’s mask as part of their welcome back-to-school package. More information is available on WVU’s website.

A full video is available below on the masks:

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