Hold on to Your Masks

Sales of face coverings have surged as the Delta variant spreads, and some designers see masks as permanent fixtures in our wardrobes.

By Anna P. Kambhampaty

When Elizabeth Schreiber, a registered nurse and mask seller in Boca Raton, Fla., saw mask sales on her Etsy shop surge in the last two weeks of July, she knew something was wrong.

“Throughout the time I’ve been selling masks, I could always tell when there was going to be an increase in Covid cases because I would all of a sudden start to get a lot of orders,” Ms. Schreiber said.

Since mid-July, her sales have nearly doubled from the beginning of the month. She sold 40 masks in the first half of July and 82 over the second. While coronavirus case numbers are rising across the United States (and in much of the world), Florida in particular has seen one of the biggest upticks, with a seven-day average of 15,818 cases at the end of July compared to 1,694 on July 1, according to data compiled by The New York Times.

Ms. Schreiber isn’t the only mask seller to experience a surge in business. After a lull in orders at the start of what many thought would be a worry-free summer, many retailers and mask makers are seeing spikes in sales as the highly contagious Delta variant spreads. Case numbers and hospitalizations are on the rise once again, and mask mandates are returning in many cities, including San Francisco and Washington, D.C.

Last week, in a reversal from previous guidance, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advised that those who are vaccinated should wear masks indoors in areas of high transmission. That includes anyone in schools, including staff, students and visitors. And although the vaccines provide strong protection against severe illness and death, the C.D.C. has found that it is still possible for vaccinated people to spread the virus and be infected by it.

The whiplash in guidance has created public confusion surrounding where and how often masks should be worn. But mask sellers and designers in the United States are starting to think that the rise of the new variant may mean face coverings are here to stay, perhaps as a semi-permanent part of our wardrobes.

Masks are already commonplace in many countries, including South Korea and Japan, and are worn for a variety of reasons including disease prevention and protection from pollution.

In the United States, “I personally think mask wearing will be a new norm for some people,” said John Lin, the director of operations at Pacific Mason, a company that specializes in bags and accessories but began making masks during the pandemic. (The brand said sales of masks rose 300 percent in the last week of July from the previous week.) “With new variants being discovered from time to time, we just can’t forget about protecting our friends and families,” he said.

Masahiko Nakasuji, the chief marketing officer of Uniqlo, said masks have been a popular item for the brand and that Uniqlo is planning to sell them for the foreseeable future. “We believe there will continue to be a need for masks, and we have decided to offer the product year round,” Mr. Nakasuji said. “For us what’s important is to deliver protection and comfort at the same time.”

Understand the Delta Variant