Facing off

Facing off
Sure, that Buff may look cool and be convenient, but it you’re wearing it to ward off COVID cooties, you might be better off in the buff. A new study by Duke University found that while some cotton cloth masks are almost as effective as surgical masks, thin polyester gaiters may be worse than no mask at all.

Using a simple method that employed lasers and a cell phone camera to track particles released from a person’s mouth when speaking, researchers analyzed 14 different facial coverings ranging from N95s to bandanas.

“We were able to actually count the number of particles,” study co-author and Duke physics professor Warren S. Warren, told the Washington Post. “There’s a lot of controversy and people say, ‘Well, masks don’t do anything.’ Well, the answer is some don’t, but most do.”

A fitted N95 mask was found to be the most effective. Meanwhile, a gaiter described as a “neck fleece” made out of polyester spandex, ranked worse than the no-mask control group. The gaiters produced a high droplet count, possible due to the porous fabric breaking up bigger particles into many little ones, which hang around in the air longer. This makes wearing some gaiters possibly “counterproductive,” researchers said. “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,” Warren said.

For its part, Buff issued a statement in April emphasizing that its products are not scientifically proven to protect against the coronavirus. “Buff performance head and neckwear are not intended to be used as medical-grade face masks or as a replacement for N95 respirators,” the statement said.

Another neck gaiter manufacturer, however, cautioned against writing off every variation of the face covering. “All gaiters are not created equal,” Chris Bernat, co-founder of South Carolina-based Vapor Apparel, told the Post. Although the study did not give specifics about the material of the gaiter tested, Bernat raised doubts. “Chances are it was a lower-quality fabric,” he said.

Other types of face coverings that fall into the “counterproductive” category are bandanas, knitted masks and N95 mask with exhalation valves. “Those relief valves are fantastic if what you want to do is protect yourself from the outside,” Warren said. “If what you’re trying to do is protect the outside world from you, it completely defeats the purpose.”

Warren encouraged people to assess face coverings with their own basic test. “If you can see through it when you put it up to a light and you can blow through it easily, it probably is not protecting anybody.”

 

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