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Masks have varying degrees of effectiveness

August 31, 2020

As cases of Covid-19 continue to rise in Douglas County and the mask mandate persists, it is helpful to be aware of how to best protect oneself and others from the virus. Not only do masks protect the wearer, but they also keep others safe. The purpose of a mask is to place a barrier between the particles one releases when speaking and breathing, and the air. There are many variations of facial masks available for purchase right now. It may be difficult to determine which masks are worth investing in. Luckily, Duke University performed a study examining the effectiveness of 14 types of masks and released their results. 

The experiment was conducted using an open black box. The speaker spoke into the front of the box for about 20 seconds. A laser projected through one side of the box formed a green “light sheet” through the center. A camera at the back captured any particles passing through the mask. The most effective facial covering tested in this experiment was the N95 mask, which blocked 95% of airborne particles from passing through to the air. While this does appear to be the safest option, N95 masks should be reserved for healthcare workers, not purchased for every-day use. However, there is still an extremely effective mask available for the public to use. Surgical masks proved to be the second best type of mask, blocking 75 percent of respiratory droplets from the air.  

Depending on the materials used, cloth masks vary in effectiveness. With an ideal combination of fabrics, they can be up to 50 percent effective. Some interesting findings had to deal with bandanas, valve masks, and neck gaiters. Masks with valves proved to be ineffective because the valve lets out unfiltered air. A contagious person will not be protecting others by wearing a mask with a valve. Knitted masks and bandanas also provided limited protection in the experiment. The materials used in these masks are not dense enough to block airborne particles from escaping. An interesting discovery was the dependency of the neck gaiter-type fleece mask. Many MLB players have been seen wearing these masks, sporting their team logos, as baseball games have started back up. Although these face coverings may look cool and are easy to take on and off, their effectiveness is lower than any other mask. Not only that, but they are even more harmful than not wearing a mask at all. The polyester spandex material breaks large airborne particles into smaller ones, which get into the air and spread.  

Clearly, there is still much information yet to be discovered concerning Covid-19.  While wearing a mask is helpful, it is still vital to continue practices such as social distancing and washing hands frequently. As a society, individuals must take the responsibility to stay educated about this pandemic in order to create the safest environment for everyone. While the world is facing new problems each day, there is still hope to get through these adversities by cooperating and making the necessary individual contributions. 


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