Are neck gaiters worse than face masks when it comes to COVID-19 protection? According to a Duke University study conducted a couple of months ago, they could apparently be worse than wearing no face mask protection at all! We've written a few blog posts about the flaws in this research and how the media propagated misinformation from its results. But instead of taking our word for it, how about we listen to a few other scientists weigh in on this topic?
The results of a new study fly in the face of the now notorious Duke University study. It showed that neck gaiters not only work just as well as masks at stopping the spread of the coronavirus — but that they may actually be more effective than some cloth face masks.
Layers Matter More Than Mask Type
There's no doubt that neck gaiters have gotten a bad rap in recent months. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) doesn't recommend their usage against the coronavirus because it claims there isn't enough research to recommend them at this moment. But that may be about to change. A new study has found that the public may have been too quick to judge these versatile tube-shaped fabric coverings.
Researchers from the University of Georgia emulated the same methodology as the Duke University researchers; they used a laser, a Class 1000 clean room, and a 3D-printed box designed to reduce air particles. The scientists then had an adult male participant test four two-layer cloth face masks, five single-layer neck gaiters, and three multi-layer neck gaiters. During the test, the participant stayed quiet for a full ten seconds and then said the phrase "Stay healthy, people" five times.
Single-layer neck gaiters provided an average of a 77% reduction in respiratory droplets compared to wearing no face mask at all. That may not come as a surprise — after all, who would really believe that neck gaiters were worse than wearing no face mask at all? But the other results from the study were more astounding. Two-layer face masks reduced respiratory droplets by an average of 81%, not much of an improvement over the single-layer neck gaiters. And multi-layer neck gaiters? They reduced respiratory droplets by 96%.
The study's authors wrote, "The level of protection provided by a face covering appears to be substantially driven by the number and quality of layers of material and not whether it's in the form of a gaiter or a mask."
Clearing Up Misconceptions About Neck Gaiters
There's no doubt that the media's misconstruing of the Duke University Study was detrimental to neck gaiters. In fact, it was so damaging and erroneous, that one of the scientists behind the study came forward to clarify its findings concerning coronavirus protection.
"Our intent was not to say this mask doesn’t work, or never use neck gaiters," explained Dr. Martin Fischer, a Duke University Chemistry associate research professor and co-author of the study. "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."
Suraj Sharma is a University of Georgia professor of polymer, fiber, and textile sciences. He's also a co-author of the institution's recent study on neck gaiters. He set out on this research to clarify misconceptions of the face coverings because he knew something was off about all of the conflicting recent information: "This didn't make sense to us. The type of material and number of layers should determine the efficacy of a face covering more so than the form factor. We wanted to put that thesis to the test."
While optimistic about neck gaiters, Sharma says that he and Tho Nguyen, a fellow University of Georgia professor and study co-author, were still surprised by the results, specifically the fact that multi-layer neck gaiters outperformed the face masks. They concluded that "the reduction in respiratory droplets is driven by the material and the number of layers used, rather than the form factor of a mask or gaiter."
Another Study That Vindicates Neck Gaiters
The Duke University study did do one positive thing for neck gaiters: It drew more scientists' attention to this type of face mask protection. Virginia Tech, a leading authority on aerosols, conducted its own study on a 100% polyester single-layer neck gaiter and an 87% polyester, 13% spandex two-layer neck gaiter. Preliminary results show that both types of gaiters were effective at stopping 100% of large 20-micron droplets and 50% of one-micron particles. When the researchers doubled the single-layer gaiter, it blocked more than 90% of all aerosols.
While the tide seems to be turning for neck gaiters, there's still more work to be done to vindicate them. Sharma says the bans on them in some regions is an unfortunate matter and adds that "fighting this pandemic requires us to encourage everyone to wear face coverings, and excluding a very popular face covering is a mistake." With that said, Sharma hopes his research can help convince the CDC about neck gaiters' efficacy. As noted before, the CDC states that it hasn't received enough data to make a conclusive decision.
On the bright side, it seems that more studies are underway. And we have no doubt that they'll only help in clearing the name of neck gaiters even more. If you're in the market for a neck gaiter, Sharma recommends multi-layer versions or ones that can be folded into two layers.
Want a 2-ply neck gaiter that's long enough to be folded? Check out our shop!