MASK TEST: Are you wearing the best kind of face covering?

HOUSTON – We’ve been doing this long enough to know the type of face-covering we like to wear best. Wearing a mask or face covering can help stop the spread of COVID-19, but they are not all the same. You might want to think about the type of face mask you are wearing

What type of face mask is best?

Houstonian Zaharah Lockhart doesn’t take any chances. When she goes out, she wears a cloth mask for protection.

“That corona, it ain’t no joke, it ain’t no joke,” Zahara Lockhart told us. “You should wear a mask so you won’t get sick. You don’t want to catch the corona it can kill you.”

And others we talked to tried out different mask styles before finding a favorite.

“This one is very protective,” said Rakshanda Rehman. “It has two layers inside and the top is really breathable and it has space inside so it’s not getting on my mouth.”

“I just bought it about five minutes ago,” Michael Dorsey said, “I’m trying one with the cloth instead of the elastic behind the ears. I wear a hearing aid so sometimes it’s uncomfortable with the other.”

Experts say wearing a mask in public is one of the best ways to stay safe and prevent the spread of COVID-19. But not all masks are created equal and not all are good at filtering out particles like the ones that carry coronavirus.

Study looks into types of masks

A recent Duke University study looked at the 14 most common types of face coverings. Cloth masks, surgical masks, bandanas, handkerchiefs, plus a kid and summertime favorite - Gaiter masks.

Researchers had one person speaking into a box while wearing each mask and used a laser and camera to track respiratory droplets. (The video of this experiment is really cool and you can watch it here) The findings: bandanas, handkerchiefs, and neck gaiters offered very little protection.

Duke researchers say the material in neck gaiters actually broke up the air particles and spread out the germs even more.

So what will stop the spread? We know N-95 masks are the best, but those are still mostly recommended for medical professionals since they are in short supply. Surgical masks made from plastic-derived material is the next best option. After that, a homemade mask with at least two layers - three are better.

Cloth masks with the folds in the fabric across the front also added more protection.

The CDC issued guidance to avoid valve masks. The valves allow air to escape through a hole, meaning the droplets could infect other people.

Dr. Katlyn Jetelina, an epidemiologist at the University of Texas school of public health isn’t convinced the Duke study provided enough information that any type of style should be avoided. The reason? The study was too small and only included one person.

“There are different types of talkers,” explains Dr. Jetelina. “There is soft, there is loud, lots of spit talkers - that would certainly influence the effectiveness of masks.”

But she says masks absolutely work, especially those with layers.

“I would highly suggest, two (layers). WHO recommends three layers of cloth mask,” she said. “It’s really that level of protection. We do not want that one layer. It won’t help curb the infection spread.”

Another benefit to masks - an Italian researcher found people wearing masks tended to stay more than six feet away from others - so it could help with social distancing as well.

Full list of masks put to the test

Here’s the full list of the masks tested, with each mask identified by a number in the Duke Health provided a photo of masks.

Duke Health image showing 14 face coverings put to the test (Copyright 2020 by KPRC Click2Houston - All rights reserved.)

1. Fitted N95, no valve (14 in photo)

2. 3-layer surgical mask (1)

3. Cotton-polypropylene-cotton mask (5)

4. 2-layer polypropylene apron mask (4)

5. 2-layer cotton, pleated style mask (13)

6. 2-layer cotton, pleated style mask (7)

7. Valved N95 mask (2)

8. 2-layer cotton, Olson style mask (8)

9. 1-layer Maxima AT mask (6)

10. 1-layer cotton, pleated style mask (10)

11. 2-layer cotton, pleated style mask (9)

12. Knitted mask (3)

13. Double-layer bandana (12)

14. Gaiter-style neck fleece (11)


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