Did you ditch your neck gaiter after the infamous Duke University study came out? Well, you may want to fetch it out of the trash can. As we've covered in two previous blog posts (which you can see here and here), the face mask experiment that Duke University conducted had its fair share of flaws. Besides this, new research hints that fabric, fit, and layering matter more than style when it comes to COVID-19 face mask protection.
"There’s nothing inherent about a neck gaiter that should make it any worse than a cloth mask," explains Dr. Linsey Marr, a professor of environmental engineering who studies aerosols at Virginia Tech, a leading authority on this subject. "It comes down to the fabric and how well it fits." The bottom line for fabric mask wearers? Make sure you eliminate as many gaps as possible with a snug fit. And opt for protection options that offer two layers.
A New Study on Face Mask Fit
Florida Atlantic University researchers recently investigated how face mask fit and placement affect their effectiveness. To conduct these experiments, the research team equipped a mannequin with the ability to release droplets of water and glycerin through its nose and mouth to simulate coughing, sneezing, or speaking.
First, the researchers tested the blue surgical masks that are commonly worn these days. They purposely didn't press down on the internal nose clip. While no droplets passed through the mask, droplets did escape through the gap along the mask's top. After contouring the internal clip to the mannequin's face, the researchers did notice fewer particles escaping. But more began to leak from the sides of the mask.
"The main thing to keep in mind is to make sure it fits snugly on the face and any metallic wires or strips that are present, you should always try to press it down so it contours well to your face," explains Dr. Siddhartha Verma, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering at the school.
What about Half-Masking?
Verma and his team also wanted to test the notorious "half-mask" trend that many people in public employ. This is when the mask only covers the mouth, and its top edge comes up right below the nose. Unsurprisingly, the researchers noted that an immense amount of droplets escaped from the mannequin.
In this case, the issue obviously arises from the fact that half-mask wearers have their entire nose exposed. This makes it easier for virus particles to enter and leave. For this reason, Dr. Jay Bhatt, a medical contributor for ABC News, has said that half-masking is a risk not only to the wearers but also to the people around them.
One important insight that the Florida Atlantic University researchers took away from their experiments is the importance of social distancing. They observed particles escaping from practically any gap between the mannequin's face and the masks, which can become even more problematic when you consider ambient airflow conditions for a room. This is why social distancing is a necessity, even if everyone's wearing a face mask.
Every Small Opening Matters
The Florida Atlantic University research team also tested a homemade mask with multiple layers of cotton. In a previous study, this multi-layered mask blocked the most droplets when compared to a bandanna, a cone style mask, and a loosely folded handkerchief. But for this experiment, particles were visibly streaming from the homemade mask's top since it didn't have an internal nose clip.
Verma explains why this happened: "When quality masks restrict the flow of droplets through the material, these droplets tend to get redirected to wherever there’s small gaps or openings in the mask."
The N95 mask was undoubtedly the most effective at containing particles since its heavy metal clip closes the top gap extremely effectively. The two straps over the head also helped to mitigate any droplet escape. The researchers did note that this mask should be reserved for healthcare workers, and that it's quite uncomfortable to wear for extended periods of time. Since masks have become a daily part of all of our lives, it's imperative that we each find the right mix of effectiveness and comfort.
Layer Up, Close Any Gaps, and Social Distance
The University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation recently made a model that shows the widespread usage of face mask protection could help prevent approximately 100,000 COVID-19 deaths by 2020's end. With that said, masks may restrict droplet transmission, but they aren't perfect. So keep practicing social distancing and washing your hands frequently.
At Gaiter King, we've taken every measure we can to provide our customers with safe, durable face masks and neck gaiters. All of our products fit snugly around your face to close any gaps, and some of them even have adjustable earloops so you can tighten them as you see fit. All of our neck gaiters can become 2-ply by simply folding them down into itself. And perhaps best of all, our products are treated with a copper and silver antimicrobial solution.