Researchers studied 14 different types of masks to see which offered the most protection — and found neck fleeces might actually make things worse

  • Researchers at Duke University conducted a study to test the efficacy of facemasks.
  • The study tested surgical masks in addition to cotton masks, neck fleece, and bandanas, which are frequently used as homemade alternatives.
  • While some of the homemade alternative masks offer the same level of protection as surgical masks, neck fleece and bandanas were found to provide little protection.
  • In fact, the neck fleece created more respiratory droplets than not wearing a mask at all, which might prove counterproductive to protection.
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New research authored by a group of scholars at Duke University compared 14 different types of masks to see which ones would be the most effective at reducing the spread of the coronavirus.

One of them, they found, effectively made things worse.

The researchers tested how effective each mask was at reducing the number of respiratory droplets transmitted during speech. Viral particles can be carried by these droplets, spreading the virus.

They tested 14 different types of masks, including surgical, N95, cotton, and polypropylene masks, as well as neck fleeces and bandanas to include a combination of alternative homemade masks and ones more traditionally used as protective equipment. The study tested a person speaking 10 times while wearing each of these masks and a "control trial" of not wearing any masks at all, respectively. 

In comparison to the "control trial" of not wearing masks, most of the options reduced the number of respiratory droplets transmitted, adding to the body of research that shows masks are important to limit the spread of coronavirus. The story showed that polypropylene masks marked a droplet count that was close to the numbers counted for surgical and N95 masks which had the lowest number of droplets. 

The neck fleece and bandanas, however, marked high counts of respiratory droplets, showing that these alternative face coverings offer little protection, according to the study.

In fact, neck fleece increased the number of respiratory droplets by creating a number of smaller droplets — resulting in more droplets than not wearing masks at all.

The study stated that since smaller droplets stay in the air longer than larger droplets, neck fleece may actually be "counterproductive."

"We were extremely surprised to find that the number of particles measured with the fleece actually exceeded the number of particles measured without wearing any mask," Martin Fischer, one of the study's authors, told CNN. "We want to emphasize that we really encourage people to wear masks, but we want them to wear masks that actually work."

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