NC mask mandate tightens but not all masks are created equal, scientists say

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RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN)- North Carolina’s mask mandate will tighten Friday but some researchers say not all masks are created equal.

One mask after the next, Dr.Martin Fischer at Duke University spoke into a box, repeating the phrase “Stay healthy, people”. His fellow researchers used lasers to track particles expelled from his speaking with and without a mask. The process was repeated for 14 masks.

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)

“Everyone needs to be aware of the trade-off between protection and comfort,” said Dr. Fischer.

Non-valved N95s, surgical masks, and coverings made from poly-cotton material were found to be the most protective.

While N95s are the gold standard, they are difficult to find for the average person and should be reserved for healthcare professionals. KN95 masks are easier to find and as long as they are non-counterfeit, Fischer said those are fine for everyday use as well.

“If you wear a mask that’s easy to breathe through and easy to look through if you hold it against a light, chances are that mask will not retain as many particles,” Fischer said.

The least effective methods were bandanas, not wearing a mask at all, and neck gaiters. The specific neck gaiter tested broke large virus particles into smaller ones- making them easier to spread.

While that kind of coverage is potentially dangerous if an infected person is wearing it, the Governor’s new executive order does not specify what kind of masks folks should wear.

Fischer said, “The problematic bit about mandating what kind of mask you’re supposed to wear, is if you buy a mask at a grocery store, you don’t know how well that specific mask works.”

Click this photo to enlarge.
Source: Duke Health

If a fabric feels thin- consider doubling up or fold it over if possible. Blow through your mask If you can feel your breath on the other side, you might want to consider a different fabric.

Fischer says the way a mask is worn also determines how effective it is.

“If you wear your mask up here(dangling off your ear), it’s an accessory. It’s not really doing anything,” Fischer said.

He says from a science standpoint- he encourages and supports more widespread mask use.

“This is not just protecting you, this is protecting others.”

Read the entire study below:

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