July 24, 2020

UA study looks into best materials for face masks

How effective are T-shirts and scarves?

More Arizonans are masking up to curb the spread of the coronavirus. But some masks are more effective than others, and they don’t completely shield you from exposure. A study from the University of Arizona looked into the most effective materials. We learned more about the findings from Amanda Wilson, a researcher with the UA Mel & Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health.

“Some of the nontraditional mask materials we looked at include vacuum cleaner bags and tea towels. And those were the two top performers after those more traditional masks,” Wilson said.

According to Wilson, vacuum cleaner bag masks reduced infection risks for 20-minute exposures by 58%. For 30-second exposures, it reduced infection risk by 83%. Infection risk reduction rates for masks made out of tea towels were 41% and 63% respectively.

“And we found that scarves in our model actually offered the lowest infection risk reduction of those different material types,” Wilson said. “They can offer some protection, but really you want to look for something that has a denser, knitted material or a higher thread count.”

She also explained that a mask’s ability to protect a wearer from exposure diminishes the longer that person remains in a potentially contaminated environment. A common scenario she described would be a trip to the grocery store where the length of time indoors can vary drastically.

“You’re there for 20 minutes, you’re getting a full load for an entire week as opposed to going in to get one thing and leaving,” Wilson said. “We did see that infection risk reductions were smaller for 20 minutes, meaning that your risks are greater. And for those shorter durations we saw that masks reduced infection risk by quite a lot.”

Arizona 360
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