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When it comes to the spread of COVID-19, two things are for certain: wearing a mask helps prevent the spread, and not all masks are equally effective. When it comes to bandanas, SFGate Shopping feels confident saying that wearing one is more effective than wearing nothing at all.
But when you try to get more specific than that, things get complicated very quickly.
Take the recent debacle regarding the efficacy of neck gaiters: Though a recent study at Duke University was reported to have found that neck gaiters are worse than no mask at all, the authors of that study disagreed with those headlines, explaining that their experiment was not meant as a systematic study of all mask types, but was, in fact, a very preliminary test to experiment with testing mask efficacy at all. Instead of trying to inform shoppers as to what mask to purchase, they were trying to inform other scientists about an effective way to study mask efficacy -- in this case, by using lights to count droplets that emerge from a masked speaker.
Since they only tested one type of each mask, and since there's no standard material from which all neck gaiters are made, it doesn't make sense to use their study to conclude that neck gaiters, as a design, are flawed.
When it comes to bandanas, it's similarly hard to find practical, clear conclusions.
The Duke study found that bandanas were less effective than cotton masks, but still significantly more effective than no mask at all, reducing the "droplet rate" by a "factor of two." An earlier study at Florida University also found that bandanas were less effective than face masks, but only in terms of a few inches: while a cone style mask allowed potentially virus-infected droplets to travel a mere 8-inches, the bandana allowed the droplets to travel up to 3 feet. While that is four times as far, it’s also half the six-foot social distancing different recommended by the CDC.
Furthermore, the same study found that un-masked individuals can project droplets up to 12-feet, meaning bandanas reduced droplet travel distance by 75%.
While less effective than masks, it's clear that wearing a bandana can still make a vast difference for you and the people you encounter when out in the world. Based on our earlier interviews with the CDC and non-government experts, it seems likely that you could improve the effectiveness of bandanas by doubling the layers, and minimize the gaps around your cheeks and jaw.
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Joshua Sargent is an editor for Hearst Newspapers. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Joshua Sargent is the Senior News Editor, Commerce, for Hearst Newspapers. Before this job he wrote video games and comedy, which probably just made you say "ah, yeah, that makes sense."
Josh can play the guitar solo from Steely Dan's "Kid Charlemagne" almost exactly right and lives in Brooklyn, NY with a cat that "belongs" to him according to the "law."
Email him at email@example.com.