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New study confirms bandanas, neck gaiter masks can spread COVID

A new study published at Science Advances that measures viral droplet dispersal caused by various mask types says that while some masks offer protection, two other popular mask types help spread disease.

“In proof-of-principle studies,” says the report, “we compared a variety of commonly available mask types and observed that some mask types approach the performance of standard surgical masks, while some mask alternatives, such as neck fleece or bandanas, offer very little protection.”

Researchers used equipment that costs less than $200 to scatter water particles through 14 various mask types and measured the scatter with a laser and a cell phone. The researchers say that while the data from the study is limited, “important general characteristics can be extracted by performing a relative comparison between different face masks and their transmission of droplets.”

The best masks at containing droplets were fitted N95 masks, followed by surgical masks and then poly-cotton blends. The worst were cotton, knitted, bandanas and fleece used as neck gaiters. In fact, bandanas and fleece, also known as neck gaiters, in some cases provided less protection than not wearing a mask at all.

“We noticed that speaking through some masks (particularly the neck fleece) seemed to disperse the largest droplets into a multitude of smaller droplets, which explains the apparent increase in droplet count relative to no mask in that case,” say the authors.

Those smaller droplets cause the virus to stay airborne longer and thus heighten the possibility of virus transmission.

The authors noted, however, that their study was just a “proof of principle” study and that a larger study should be done before any conclusions are drawn.

“Our proof-of-principle experiments only involved a small number of speakers, but our setup can serve as a base for future studies with a larger cohort of speakers and checks of mask performance under a variety of conditions that affect the droplet emission rate, like different speakers, volume of speech, speech patterns, and other effects,” says the report.

The study can also adjust for other conditions like sneezing and coughing.

The study doesn’t measure actual COVID transmission. But it does reveal a big hole in the research for combating viral pandemics.

Prior to the pandemic, the CDC said in a report that “very little information is available about the effectiveness of face masks and respirators in controlling the spread of pandemic influenza in community settings.”

The mask study tends to show that’s still true today, despite the CDC spending more than $11 billion per year on something other than mask research, which today is the only tool the CDC has in fighting coronavirus.

PHOTO: Reuters

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