- A new study from the Mayo Clinic showed that face masks of any kind are critical for preventing coronavirus transmission.
- The researchers used mannequins to prove the effectiveness of face coverings and conducted similar experiments at different distances.
- The study found that face masks combined with social distancing can significantly reduce one’s risk of contracting COVID-19 when exposed to infected people.
Rather than becoming a simple tool to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus, face masks have become highly controversial. An anti-mask movement fueled by politics rather than science gained traction in the US and abroad, with some people becoming convinced that face coverings don’t help to stop the spread. Some went even further, claiming that masks will prevent oxygen from reaching the body. Worst of all, some likened masks to oppression and found all sorts of reasons to avoid wearing masks in public.
Time and again, the scientific community came through, running simple experiments and conducting studies that demonstrated how face masks block tiny particles like the novel coronavirus and proved that they don’t pose any safety threat to the wearer. The latest such study comes from the Mayo Clinic, whose study concluded that masks play a “critical” role in preventing COVID-19 transmission.
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The Mayo Clinic researchers ran a series of experiments involving mannequins to simulate the spread of particles with and without masks. As you’ll see in the following clip, the researchers wanted to measure how effective masks are at blocking aerosols and droplets. They used mannequins to simulate how an infected individual would spread droplets when wearing any sort of face covering, from medical masks to cloth coverings. And they looked at how the mannequin would spread the same stream of particles without a protective mask:
The researchers also looked at social distancing requirements and found that the farther apart people are, the lower the risk of infection is, especially when combined with face mask use.
“We found the most important measure for reducing the risk of exposure to COVID-19 is to wear a mask,” chair of the department of radiology Dr. Matthew Callstrom said. “We found that both disposable paper medical masks and two-layer cloth masks were effective in reducing droplet transmission, and we did not find a difference between mask types in terms of how well they blocked aerosol particles emitted by the wearer.”
“The most common mechanism for COVID-19 transmission is through respiratory droplets which are larger than aerosols and are more easily blocked with masks,” the doctor added.
The CDC and WHO both maintain that the virus spreads mainly via droplets, with both agencies acknowledging that aerosol transmission is a risk. The researchers released the following image that compares the size of the SARS-CoV-2 virus against a 2-micron particle meant to represent the size of an aerosol particle that could contain coronavirus:
The study also measured aerosol particle travel from a source to a target at different distances. The researchers found that the particle counts were reduced with greater distance, supporting the CDC’s guidance on social distancing which recommends six feet of distance between people. The following graph shows the exposure risk based on masking and distance. The researchers found that masks help even if the two subjects are closer than six feet.
“I think we had some knowledge about the importance of masks, and there’s been a number of studies that have shown masks are effective in blocking viruses, but what’s really important here is just how effective masking is when done by both parties,” chair of the department of infectious diseases Dr. Elle Berbari said.
“We found objectively that masks are critically important for protecting yourself and the people around you,” Callstrom said. “If you’re wearing a mask, you’re protecting others. If they’re wearing masks, they’re protecting you.”