Debunking the Duke University Study: Let's Clear the Air About Neck Gaiters

Debunking the Duke University Study: Let's Clear the Air About Neck Gaiters

As the coronavirus crisis spread across America, U.S. leaders and researchers struggled to provide the proper information for combating the pandemic. This has often led to the circulation of contradictory guidance that was later discredited when evidence was gathered. For example, it wasn't so long ago that health officials were dismissing the need for face mask protection. The latest in this long string of conflicting information is a Duke University Study involved neck gaiters.

The study initially prompted fears that neck gaiters could actually be worse than wearing no mask at all. But new research has refuted this nonsensical belief and shown that this protective piece of fabric can function just as well as other cloth options. The back-and-forth is enough to make anyone's head spin. So we wanted to take a moment to get to the bottom of this neck gaiter controversy.

What the Duke University Study Was Really About

After researchers at Duke University designed and built a new, inexpensive way to test face mask protection efficacy with lasers and phone cameras, they wanted to tell the world about it — and rightfully so. As COVID-19 wreaks havoc around the world, leading organizations and researchers have been scrambling for a way to correctly evaluate face mask protection options.

covid protection mask

"Our intent was for this technology to get out there so companies and organizations can test their own masks," Dr. Martin Fischer, a Duke University Chemistry associate research professor and co-author of the study, explained.

In one part of the study, a participant wore a neck gaiter and said the phrase "Stay healthy, people" five times. Researchers observed that this participant expelled slightly more saliva particles than someone who said the phrase while wearing no face covering. They then hypothesized that neck gaiter use could cause more small droplets to spew through its fabric.

This result could have been due to a number of variables, such as the gaiter wearer's voice volume, or whether the gaiter had become moist (a factor that reduces the efficacy of any face mask protection option). But not long after the study was published, a wave of alarmist news outlets latched onto this one conclusion and ran headlines claiming that wearing neck gaiters was worse than wearing no mask at all.

What Went Wrong With the Duke University Study

However, what many of these media sources failed to mention are the shortcomings of the Duke University study and how its results were misconstrued. For example, the study did not specify any details of the neck gaiter used, only that it was lightweight and thin for "extra breathability." Fabric is everything when it comes to any face mask protection option, and you definitely don't want something that allows particles to travel in and out.

covid protection mask

The Duke University Study also mentions that only one neck gaiter was tested. "The statistics of one don’t tell you very much," says Dr. Richard C. Flagan, an aerosol scientist and California Institute of Technology engineering professor. Besides not being statistically meaningful, the 'Stay healthy, people' technique is not a reliable way to measure particles. "Did he have more mucus on his vocal cords when he said it that time than other times? What might have caused the difference? You really don’t know from a single test."

Besides all of this, doesn't the idea that a mask would create more droplets than it produces sound implausible? If you said yes, you're not alone — several aerosol scientists agree. These experts say that not only is this occurrence unlikely, but many other mask testing results have consistently demonstrated that any face covering will block some of the droplets we generate when speaking, coughing, or sneezing.

Comparing the Duke University Study With Another Test

Dr. Linsey Marr is a professor of environmental engineering who studies aerosols at Virginia Tech, a leading authority on this subject. In an interview with The New York Times, she succinctly explained why masks don't produce more droplets: "The fabrics are not acting as a sharp sieve. That’s not how filtration works."

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Marr put her statements to the test by evaluating two types of neck gaiters using methods similar to the mask testing requirements stipulated by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. Her results? "Notably, when the single-layer gaiter was doubled, it blocked more than 90% of all particles measured. By comparison, a homemade cotton T-shirt mask, recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, blocked about 40% of the smallest particles."

Appropriate Pushback from Reputable Media Sources

The Duke University study caused a whirlwind of negative media attention for neck gaiters. Fortunately, several reputable news sources and researchers have come forth to defend this versatile, functional piece of fabric. Here are some of our favorite instances, along with their sources:

"Gaiters are as effective as a mask made out of a similar material. If you double over a neck gaiter, you can get very good protection. I’ve been recommending neck gaiters, and my kids wear neck gaiters. There’s nothing inherent about a neck gaiter that should make it any worse than a cloth mask. It comes down to the fabric and how well it fits." — Dr. Linsey Marr in interviews with The Washington Post and The New York Times

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"We do know that tighter-fitting face masks have better aerosol filtration, but the most important thing is for people to find a mask that is comfortable that they can and will wear.  A neck gaiter covering the nose and mouth would most likely be appropriate." — Dr. Emily Sickbert-Bennett, Director of Infection Prevention at UNC Hospitals, in an interview with USA Today

Even The Duke Chronicle released a follow-up article to address the controversial misconstruing of its school's research results:

"Our intent was not to say this mask doesn’t work, or never use neck gaiters. This was not the main part of the paper... It was not a systematic study of masks... Seeing the media somewhat misquote and misinterpret the data was a big downer." — Dr. Martin Fischer

The Bottom Line? We Absolutely Stand By Our Neck Gaiters

Like the rest of the general public, we do not know every detail of the Duke University study. But what we do know about is the quality and care that goes into every single Gaiter King product. All of our products are 100% American-made with high-quality material specifically designed to combat the shortcomings of a thin fabric gaiter.

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Our neck gaiters are moisture-wicking to keep you cool and dry. They're also UPF 50, which speaks to their knit tightness and fabric thickness. Put another way, our neck gaiters protect you from more than 97% of UV ray penetration.

Best of all, each of our neck gaiters is silver and copper-infused, which has been clinically tested and shown to kill 99.9% of viruses, bacteria, mold, and fungus. And in case that doesn't make you feel safe enough already, all of our neck gaiters are naturally 2-ply. Simply fold the fabric into itself whenever you want it double layer protection.

We hope you've enjoyed this deep-dive into the Duke University study and taken away an insight or two. And if you're curious about the quality and craftsmanship of our neck gaiters, don't hesitate to see for yourself — check out our shop!