As a growing number of cities and states enact mask-wearing mandates, there is an increasing demand for face masks. When the coronavirus pandemic first started, people rushed to buy up supplies of medical-grade masks, causing shortages at hospitals around the country.
While medical-grade masks provide the best protection against COVID-19, they are unnecessary outside of a healthcare facility. Disposable masks offer some protection but may not fit properly, and are only recommended for one use.
As a result, many Americans have gone online to find reusable custom-made cloth masks on Amazon and Etsy, while others have decided to make their own. Some people go for the easy route, just tying a bandana or handkerchief around their face, while others break out their sewing kits and hand-stitch custom-fitted masks.
When buying, or making a mask, one of the most important things is knowing how well it will protect you against the coronavirus. A team of researchers from Florida Atlantic University set out to test various fabrics and styles to determine which provided the best protection against COVID-19.
"All of the major health agencies have now issued recommendations for the general public to use some sort of face covering. But there are no clear guidelines on the types of material or designs that should be used," Siddhartha Verma, an assistant professor at the University, said, according to Forbes. "While there are a few prior studies on the effectiveness of medical-grade equipment, we don't have a lot of information about the cloth-based coverings that are most accessible to us at present, given the need to reserve medical-grade supplies for healthcare workers."
The researchers used a mannequin to simulate a person sneezing and found that droplets traveled up to eight feet from an unprotected face. When they wrapped a bandana around the mannequin's face, the droplets flew about three feet. A cotton handkerchief did better, with the droplets landing one-foot, three-inches away. Water droplets traveled eight inches when the mannequin's face was protected by a cone-style face mask, which is readily available at most pharmacies.
The best protection comes from stitched masks made of two layers of cotton quilting fabric. Droplets traveled just 2.5 inches when the mannequin "sneezed" while wearing that style mask.
The researchers said that thread count did not play a role in how effective the masks were, pointing out that the bandanas they used had the highest thread count, but provided the least amount of protection.
They said that the biggest issue was leakage caused by loose-fitting masks. They said they hope their research shows that masks, even non-medical ones, can be effective at limiting the spread of the coronavirus.
"In addition to providing an initial indication of the effectiveness of protective equipment, the visuals used in this study can help convey to the general public the rationale behind social-distancing guidelines and recommendations for using face masks. Promoting widespread awareness of effective preventative measures is crucial, given the high likelihood of a resurgence of COVID-19 infections in the fall and winter."
Photo: Getty Images