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Neck gaiters, typically worn by snow enthusiasts for warmth and by outdoorsmen to keep dust and debris out of the mouth, have been endorsed by some groups as suitable to wear amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Try using a neck gaiter — a piece of material tied in a loop — made of stretchy synthetic fabric. Fold it into multiple layers if the material is thin,” WebMD says.
But a new story says nuh-uh.
A group of researchers from Duke University recently conducted a study on the effectiveness of masks, ranging from hospital-grade N95 respirators to simple bandanas.
“Of the 14 masks and other coverings tested, the study found that some easily accessible cotton cloth masks are about as effective as standard surgical masks, while popular alternatives such as neck gaiters made of thin, stretchy material may be worse than not wearing a mask at all,” The Washington Post reported.
The test was simple: Researchers used a laser-like device, a cardboard box and a cell phone camera to capture individual particles released from a person’s mouth when they speak.
Test subjects spoke the same phrase into the box, first without a mask, then with one on. Each type of face covering was tested 10 times. “Inside the device, the airborne particles passed through a sheet of light created by the laser hitting the lens and produced visible flashes that were recorded by the phone’s camera,” The Post said.
“Even very small particles can do this kind of [light] scattering,” one of the study’s co-authors, Warren S. Warren, told the paper. “We were able to use the scattering, and then tracking individual particles from frame to frame in the movie, to actually count the number of particles that got emitted.”
The study, published Friday in Science Advances, found that a properly fitted N95 mask, typically worn by medical personnel, was the most effective, meaning no droplets came out at all when test subjects spoke into the box. But the neck gaiter — the one tested by the researchers was called a “fleece” and made of a polyester spandex material — ranked even worse than the no-mask control group.
“These neck gaiters are extremely common in a lot of places because they’re very convenient to wear,” Warren said. “But the exact reason why they’re so convenient, which is that they don’t restrict air, is the reason why they’re not doing much of a job helping people.”
Duke University physics professor Martin Fischer said the gaiters changed the droplets being emitted. “We attribute this to the fleece, the textile, breaking up those big particles into many little particles,” he said. “They tend to hang around longer in the air. They get carried away easier in the air. So this might actually be counterproductive to wear such a mask. So it’s not the case that any mask is better than nothing.”
Dr. Eric Westman of Duke University said the findings surprised them. “Like the common sense of just putting your hand in front of your face, we really thought that any mask would be better than nothing,” he said.