What it’s like to wear an astronaut-style helmet for COVID-19 protection
You’d think wearing a giant astronaut-style helmet over your head might attract attention, but this is New York.
And so when I left my Brooklyn apartment yesterday morning sporting a rather ludicrous-looking visor meant to protect me from COVID-19, hardly anyone gave me a second glance.
That is, until I headed to my local bodega to order breakfast.
“Can I take your picture?” the man behind the counter asked me. Or, at least, that’s how I think he phrased it — through my outsized protective head covering I could hear only jumbled nonsense.
And so, seeing my dumbfounded look, he relied on hand gestures — pointing to his phone and then my face — to get his point across.
And so began my three hours wandering New York City in a $199 Air protection device, which made me look like the lost member of the French electronic duo Daft Punk. It’s just one of several high-tech visors now being marketed as P.P.E. to business executives and frequent travelers. The company that makes it, Hall Labs, initially envisioned it as luxury Bluetooth-enabled skiing gear, but quickly pivoted the design when the pandemic hit.
Now the company can barely keep them in stock: “We’re getting swamped,” said Hall Labs managing director Michael Hall, noting that his company has sold more than 2,000 units and has a significant backlog of orders.
Equipped with built-in lithium battery-powered HEPA filters, it’s supposed to sift out 99.7 percent of the particles in my inhalations and exhalations. Apparently, that includes bad pickup lines, too.
A man in a business suit locked eyes with me, smiled, and said I’m not sure what as — again — it’s really difficult to hear in the helmet.
And that’s the nice thing about being ensconced in 2 pounds of clear acrylic: moving through the world on a rainy day with a warm, dry bubble around my skull was in some ways a commuter’s dream.
On the elevated M train, I watched peacefully from my terrarium dome of safety as the borough zoomed past. I wasn’t bothered by my fellow straphanger playing the news on speakerphone a few seats down because I could barely hear it.
After months of wearing a mask, I did feel oddly naked having the lower half of my face visible in public, but it was nice to be able to wear lipstick again.
Drinking coffee, on the other hand, became a major production — and don’t get me started on my hair, which suffered from repeatedly pulling the helmet on and off.
Still, having a personal ventilation system lent me a sense of peace and security — a feeling that worries experts.
“Based on what I can see, there is no way I would put that on my head,” Duke University professor and co-author of a recent mask assessment study, Warren S. Warren, told The Post. He worries that a visor like the one made by Air might give its wearers a “false sense of security.”
Still, he did acknowledge that the Air is, “in principle,” possibly safer than a mask, as it covers the eyes (Dr. Fauci has recommended wearing goggles).
And HEPA filters are “pretty effective at removing particles somewhat smaller than the ones that get through a mask,” he said.
I plan to continue wearing my helmet, not because it makes me feel safer than my masks do, but because it pairs wonderfully with my similarly astronautical Moon Boots. It also makes for a great conversation starter — although, I’ll need to swap it out for a mask to actually have a conversation.
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