Coronavirus News Update: Not All Masks Are Created Equally – Here’s How You Can Tell The Difference

a girl is wearing a mask with the city behind | Feature | Coronavirus News Update: Not All Masks Are Created Equally—Here’s How You Can Tell The Difference
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In the latest coronavirus news, a group of researchers develops a low-cost way of measuring mask effectiveness.

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In This Article:

  1. Why Mask Up?
  2. Testing the Effectiveness of Masks
  3. Preliminary Results 
  4. Test Limitations and Uses
  5. Other Ways to Stay Safe

Coronavirus News: Researchers Present New Way to Evaluate Mask Efficacy

Why Mask Up?

a boy in hoodie wearing n95 mask is looking back and standing on the street | Coronavirus News Update: Not All Masks Are Created Equally—Here’s How You Can Tell The Difference | Why Mask Up?

As schools and the economy continue to open up, the pandemic remains. So, it’s even more important now to follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) recommendation to mask up—especially if you’re in public or around people you don’t live with.

Masking up is vital because COVID-19 primarily spreads from person to person through respiratory droplets. When a person coughs, talks, or sneezes, they can release these droplets into the air.

A good mask is supposed to offer protection against these droplets and, at the same time, protect others from your droplets. Unfortunately, the pandemic has created a shortage of medical supplies, including medical-grade masks like surgical face masks and N95 respirators.

Because of this shortage, many people end up using homemade masks or other mask alternatives such as:

  • Knitted masks
  • Polypropylene apron masks
  • Cotton-polypropylene-cotton mask
  • 1-layer Maxima AT mask
  • 2-layer cotton mask (pleated style)
  • 2-layer cotton mask (Olson style)
  • 1-layer cotton maks (pleated style)
  • Neck fleece mask (gaiter type)
  • Double-layer Bandanas

Many of them may look similar to medical-grade masks, but they haven’t been tested for their ability to reduce the spread of respiratory droplets. A group of researchers recently published a study outlining a new method of evaluating mask efficacy.

Testing the Effectiveness of Masks

To test the efficacy of masks, the researchers needed to observe the movement of respiratory droplets. They were able to do this by creating a set-up that housed a visible laser beam.

The set-up includes a cellphone camera, laser, and a black box. They shined the laser beam through strategically placed holes in the box.

This laser beam forms a thin sheet of light that shines inside the box. They place the cellphone camera inside the box to capture the movement of the droplets during the experiment.

There’s also a hole in the box where individuals wearing the mask can talk into. To demonstrate the test, the researchers tested 14 different masks in their study.

During the experiment, the mask wearer would say, “Stay healthy, people” five times. This was repeated ten times for each type of mask.

The videos were then uploaded into a computer. Once the videos were uploaded, an algorithm would document the number of particles emitted in each video.

Preliminary Results


The researchers admit that they only tested masks that were readily available to them. Even from their limited selection, though, the researchers found differences in their ability to reduce droplet transmission.

As expected, a fitted N95 mask and surgical mask had the least droplet count. Certain types of poly-cotton masks perform almost as well as surgical masks.

At the other end of the spectrum, a bandana and neck fleece (or gaiter) masks had the most droplet count. In fact, their droplet performance was even comparable to the trials where the speaker doesn’t wear any mask. In particular, the fleece seemed to break down droplets into smaller particles, which allowed the air to carry it even further.

Another interesting finding is the difference between a fitted N95 mask and an N95 with an exhalation valve. A valve in the N95 mask can significantly decrease its protective properties. So much so that a particular cotton mask can outperform it in terms of overall droplet count.

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Test Limitations and Uses

The researchers believe that the test does have some inherent limitations. For example, the experiment controlled for the speaking position in each trial. It would be challenging to have the same control in everyday life.

You can also standardize masks, but faces come in different shapes and sizes. So there are individual differences that the study may not capture.

But the study does provide evidence that different types of masks can provide different levels of protection. The researchers believe that their inexpensive experimental set-up can be easily replicated in other professional set-ups like manufacturing companies, museums, or community outreach centers.

Ultimately, the researchers hope that their mask evaluation test can help others choose the best and safest mask for their needs. Just like public health experts, the researchers encourage everyone to wear masks to help curb infection—but it’s essential to wear a mask that works.

Other Ways to Stay Safe

A girl wearing red sweater and mask is washing her hands | Coronavirus News Update: Not All Masks Are Created Equally—Here’s How You Can Tell The Difference | Other Ways to Stay Safe

Wearing a mask when you’re out in public is just one way to stay safe during the pandemic. The CDC also offers the following COVID-19 prevention tips:

  • Make a habit of washing or sanitizing your hands. This is especially important before you eat, prepare food, or touch your face. Always wash your hands after leaving a public place, coughing, blowing your nose, sneezing, touching your mask, or interacting with a sick person.
  • Maintain social distance with people who are sick and people you don’t live with. This means staying at least 6 feet away from other people.
  • Disinfect high touch areas regularly. Clean these areas thoroughly before using a household disinfecting agent.

Apart from these prevention tips, the CDC also recommends monitoring your health and watching out for coronavirus symptoms. If you start feeling any symptoms, consult a health professional immediately for more guidance.

You don’t need to leave your home to be screened for COVID-19. With telemedicine services like StreamMD, you can talk to a medical professional from the comfort of your own home. Visit their website to learn more about your consultation options.

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