Is your face covering doing the job? Duke lists most, least effective face coverings

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RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN)- Researchers at Duke Health conclude wearing a neck gaiter as a facial covering may be worse than not wearing one at all.

The finding came from a study looking at effectiveness of 14 different face coverings. Using a system built for just a few hundred dollars, researchers repeated the phrase “Stay healthy, people” into a box. They then tracked the amount of droplets that were expelled from the speakers mouth. The process was repeated for all 14 masks.

Not surprisingly, the study found the face covering most effective for reducing the amount of droplets expelled from the speaker’s mouth were N95 masks without valves followed by surgical masks. Face coverings made with polycotton followed closely behind and blocked 80% of droplets.

The least effective methods were double layer bandanas, not wearing a mask at all, followed by neck gaiters.

The study found when using single layer, polyester spandex neck gaiters, larger droplets expelled by the mouth were split into smaller droplets. That creates more droplets that can stay in the air longer, increasing the potential of COVID-19 spread.

Martin Fischer, a chemist and physicist at Duke said the study was not meant to discourage people from choosing one mask over another. He also said his experiment only tested one gaiter.

“There are some that have thicker material, if you double them up, if you fold them over, you have more layers. Maybe you wear two of those,” Dr. Fischer.

In order of effectiveness the masks ranked in the following order. The number in parenthesis corresponds with the number given to the masks in the photo below.

Source: Duke Health
1. Surgical mask, 2. Valved N95, 3. Knitted, 4. ‘PolyProp’ 2-layer polypropylene apron mask, 5. ‘Poly/Cotton’ Cotton-polypropylene-cotton mask, 6. ‘MaxAT’1-layer Maxima AT mask, 7. ‘Cotton2 ’2-layer cotton, pleated style mask, 8. ‘Cotton 4 ’2-layer cotton, Olson style mask, 9. ‘Cotton3′ 2-layer cotton, pleated style mask, 10. ‘Cotton1’1-layer cotton, pleated style mask, 11. ‘Fleece’ Gaiter type neck fleece, 12. ‘Bandana’ Double-layer bandana, 13. ‘Cotton5′ 2-layer cotton, pleated style mask, 14. Fitted N95
  1. N95 with no valve (14)
  2. Surgical (1)
  3. Poly/cotton masks (5)
  4. 2-layer PolyProp apron mask (4)
  5. Swath
  6. 2-layer cotton, pleated style (13)
  7. Valved N95 (2)
  8. 2-layer cotton, Olson style mask (8)
  9. 1-layer Maxima AT mask (6)
  10. 1-layer cotton-pleated style mask (10)
  11. 2-layer cotton pleated mask (9)
  12. Knitted (3)
  13. Double-layer Bandana (12)
  14. None
  15. Neck gaiter (11)

“It was surprising to me and I think a lot of people may not believe it unless they see it,” said Dr. Eric Westman an associate professor of medicine at Duke.

Dr. Westman said the study confirms particles potentially carrying COVID-19 can come out of your mouth during conversation. In the early days of the pandemic, it was believed viral particles were only expelled through a cough or sneeze.

He said the said it also gives the public a starting point when considering what kind of ask to make or purchase. They hoped it also created awareness of the importance of wearing a mask to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

“You’re protecting yourself when you’re wearing it but you’re also protecting other people from you if you don’t know you have the infection,” said Dr. Westman.


Click this photo to enlarge.
Source: Duke Health

While the study looked at particles emitted, it did not look at whether the masks provided protection from inhaling particles.

The test is also limited in that it does not distinguish between particles emitted from the gaps of in a mask.

If a person is wearing an ill-fitting N95 mask, the has a potential of being less effective than this study currently ranks.

That is an experiment researchers say requires more work.

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