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Will.i.am wears the "Xupermask." Photo: Honeywell

Will.i.am, founder of the Black Eyed Peas, is launching a $299 mask — complete with noise cancellation headphones — with help from N95 manufacturer Honeywell.

Why it matters: The rapper and entrepreneur is betting people will splurge on a souped-up face covering as a fashion statement and for its wearable tech element, even as the pandemic eases and the pace of vaccinations pick up.

The intrigue: Will.i.am tells Axios he's been thinking about this type of hyped-up mask since the onset of the pandemic. Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff helped broker the Honeywell connection after seeing earlier prototypes of the mask. (He's known Benioff for 15 years.)

Details: The "Xupermask" (pronounced super mask) comes with Honeywell's HEPA ventilation filters — designed for consumer, not medical, use. It has bluetooth connectivity and comes with an earbud docking system.

  • It launches Thursday — and will be sold directly to customers online.
  • Will.i.am says he hasn't had yet had conversations with any retailers to sell the mask, though it's a possibility "as we gear up towards the holidays."

The backdrop: Some states have dropped mask mandates, though big businesses still require them for the most part.

  • The CDC recently said the inoculated can socialize indoors maskless with low-risk or other vaccinated people. But it still recommends they mask up in public.

What they're saying: "I wish it wasn't the case but masks will be here for a while," Will.i.am tells Axios.

  • The question is how many will shell out big bucks for a high-tech face covering — or opt for a cloth or paper mask with just as sufficient protection.

Go deeper

Apr 6, 2021 - Health

Health industry grapples with COVID vaccine mandates

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

As coronavirus vaccines become less scarce, employers such as nursing homes and hospitals are debating whether to require their employees to be vaccinated, the Washington Post reports.

Why it matters: Health care workers often interact with the members of society most vulnerable to severe coronavirus infections, making a particularly strong case for vaccine mandates.

Apr 5, 2021 - Health

CDC: Disinfecting indoor surfaces only necessary after recent COVID-19 case

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Regular household cleaners and soap — not disinfectant — are fine to use to clean indoor surfaces and lower the risk of spreading the coronavirus, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Monday.

What they're saying: “Disinfection is only recommended in indoor settings, schools, and homes where there has been a suspected or confirmed case of COVID-19 within the last 24 hours,” CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said at Monday's White House coronavirus briefing.

Dave Lawler, author of World
Apr 6, 2021 - World

Vaccinating Africa: Countries struggle to deliver the few shots they've got

Registering for a vaccine, in Thika, Kenya. Photo: Patrick Meinhardt/Bloomberg via Getty

The first shipment of long-awaited coronavirus vaccines finally arrived in the Democratic Republic of the Congo on March 3. One month later, they’re still sitting in a warehouse in the capital, Kinshasa.

Why it matters: Africa is at the back of the global line for vaccines, and most countries only expect enough doses to cover a fraction of their populations this year. But in some cases, even those limited supplies may not be fully deployed before they expire.