Wearing a face mask can play a vital role in slowing the spread of COVID-19 in our community. With mask mandates in place during the pandemic, we have seen widespread use of homemade masks and mask alternatives. Cloth masks, bandanas and neck gaiters are all popular options, but not all masks are created equal. You may be wondering which of these options offers the best protection from COVID-19 transmission for yourself and your family.
Cloth masks can be effective in preventing the spread of COVID-19 when made well. Your mask fabric should be thick, but still breathable when you wear it.
One way to test the density of fabric is holding it up to the light. If light easily passes through, then your fabric may not be thick enough. If you’re making a mask at home and you’re working with a thinner material, try folding the same piece of fabric over to create a denser mask. You also want to pick a fabric that you can put in the washing machine and dryer.
Overall, fabric masks with two or three layers are better than one, and a snug fitting mask with no gaps between your face and the mask is best.
A neck gaiter is a tube of fabric made from thin, stretchy material, often used to keep skiers or runners warm in cold weather. Neck gaiters are well-liked by athletes and outdoorsmen for their lightweight fabric and breathability, but this is also what makes them problematic for use as a face mask.
Duke University recently conducted a study analyzing more than a dozen different facial coverings ranging from hospital-grade N95 respirators to bandanas using a device that allowed their researchers to track individual particles released from a person’s mouth when they are speaking. The study found that neck gaiters are not effective at limiting respiratory emissions. In fact, they may break larger particles of respiratory droplets into smaller particles, which allows them to stay in the air longer and transmit to others more effectively.
Like the neck gaiter, a plain bandana may be too thin to provide adequate protection. A bandana may be more effective if it is layered several times and sewn or pinned in place like a cloth mask. The CDC offers recommendations and tutorials on how to best make a mask at home.
Masks with valves or vents
The purpose of a mask is to keep respiratory droplets from spreading. Masks with one-way valves or vents allow air to be pushed out through the mask, which allows your respiratory droplets to potentially spread to others. For this reason, the CDC does not currently recommend these masks for use in the prevention of COVID-19.
A face shield is used primarily for eye protection. According to the CDC, at this time, not much is known about the level of protection face shields provide against the transmission of respiratory droplets from the wearer to others. For this reason, the CDC does not currently recommend face shields as substitutes for masks.
There are several other factors you should consider when choosing a mask:
Who should wear a mask?
Following recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), Ochsner advises all individuals ages two and older wear a face mask when outside your home and in public spaces. Wearing a mask protects you and those around you. You should also refrain from touching your face mask in public, because doing so can move it away from your nose and mouth.
How do you know if your mask fits properly?
- All cloth face coverings should:
- Fit snugly but comfortably against the side of your face
- Be secured with ties or ear loops
- Include multiple layers of fabric
- Allow for breathing without restriction
- Be able to be laundered and machine dried without damage or change to its shape
- When removing a face covering, avoid touching the eyes, nose or mouth. Remember to always wash your hands after removing a face covering.
For more information on COVID-19, visit ochsner.org/coronavirus.
The information in this blog post is accurate at the time of publication. However, as the situation surrounding COVID-19 continues to change, it's possible that information has changed since being published. While Ochsner Health is trying to keep our blog posts as up-to-date as possible, we also encourage readers to stay informed on news and recommendations by using the CDC website.