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COVID-19 Face Masks: The Most and Least Effective Styles

How effective is the mask your wearing?

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During the coronavirus pandemic, many people are trying to do their part to flatten the curve and keep themselves and their loved ones safe. The CDC advises wearing a mask or a face covering to help prevent people who have COVID-19 from spreading the virus to others, including those who are at a high risk of a severe illness. This measure is especially important in settings where you will be around people who do not live in your household and where it is difficult to maintain social distancing

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But, what kind of face masks and cloth face coverings are most effective? Many people use different materials and styles to cover their face, but according to new research, some are more effective than others. 

Researchers at Florida Atlantic University’s College of Engineering and Computer Science conducted studies to test the effectiveness of different face masks and cloth face coverings in obstructing droplets that come from coughing and sneezing. 

In the study, they tested masks that are available for the general public to use or easily get and did not include medical-grade masks or respirators for health care workers. These coverings included a bandana-style covering, a homemade mask that was stitched using layers of cotton quilting fabric and a non-sterile cone-style mask that is available in most pharmacies. Using a mannequin, they simulated droplets coming from its mouth from coughing and sneezing. 

The study found that loosely folded masks and bandana-styled masks did stop droplets to a point. But compared to homemade masks with layers of fabric and cone-style masks, these styles proved to be less effective in stopping droplets from spreading. 

With a bandana, droplets moved 3 feet, 7 inches; with a folded cotton handkerchief, they moved 1 foot, 3 inches; with the stitched quilting cotton mask, they moved 2.5 inches; and with the cone-style mask, droplets moved 8 inches.

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They also tested simulated coughs and sneezes without a covering and found that droplets traveled more than 8 feet, which is farther than the currently recommended 6-foot social distancing guideline. While social distancing can be effective, wearing a mask and other preventive measures like properly washing your hands are still important as well. If you're wondering how where you live is faring, here's how successful each state in America has been at social distancing.