Adoption of face coverings during the COVID-19 pandemic became commonplace
While wearing a face mask is an extremely essential measure to not only protect the wearer from expelling particles that might carry SARS-CoV-2, some people, though, still refuse to wear a mask. So, scientists researched the protectiveness of various kinds of consumer-grade and modified masks, assuming the wearer was exposed to the novel coronavirus, like when we interact with an unmasked infected person.
The UNC School of Medicine scientists, in collaboration with the Environmental Protection Agency, led the study published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine.
The research shows that some masks were as much as 79 per cent effective at blocking particles that could carry the virus. These were masks made of two layers of woven nylon and fit snug against the wearer’s face. Unmodified medical procedure masks with ear loops – also known as surgical masks – offered 38.5 per cent filtration efficacy, but when the ear loops were tied in a specific way to tighten the fit, the efficacy improved to 60.3 per cent. And when a layer of nylon was added, these masks offered 80 per cent effectiveness.
“While modifications to surgical masks can enhance the filtering capabilities and reduce inhalation of airborne particles by improving the fit of the mask, we demonstrated that the fitted filtration efficiencies of many consumer-grade masks were nearly equivalent to or better than surgical masks,” said co-first author Phillip Clapp, PhD, an inhalation toxicologist and assistant professor of paediatrics at the UNC School of Medicine.
Co-first author Emily Sickbert-Bennett, PhD, director of infection prevention at the UNC Medical Center, added, “Limiting the amount of virus is important because the more viral particles we’re exposed to, the more likely it is we will get sick and potentially severely ill.”
As the adoption of face coverings during the COVID-19 pandemic became commonplace, there was a rapid expansion in the public use of commercial, home-made, and improvised masks which vary considerably in design, material, and construction. There have been a number of innovative “hacks,” devices, and mask enhancements that claim to improve the performance characteristics of conventional masks – typically surgical or procedure masks. Despite their widespread dissemination and use during the pandemic, there have been few evaluations of the efficiency of these face coverings or mask enhancements at filtering airborne particles.
In this study, the researchers used a recently described methodological approach based on the OSHA Fit Test to determine the fitted filtration efficiency (FFE) of a variety of consumer-grade and improvised facemasks, as well as several popular modifications of medical procedure masks. Seven consumer-grade masks and five medical procedure mask modifications were fitted on an adult male, and FFE measurements were collected during a series of repeated movements of the torso, head, and facial muscles as outlined by the OSHA Quantitative Fit Testing Protocol.