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Cloth masks perform well, study shows

Face masks
Face masks (Cleveland Clinic News Service)

A mask is a must-have when leaving the house these days. But you might be wondering what type of mask provides the best protection?

According to Raed Dweik, M.D., of Cleveland Clinic, whether your mask is homemade or store-bought, evidence shows wearing one makes a difference.

“The spread of the virus really goes down in areas where people wear masks, and it goes as down as four to five times reduced risk of infection when people in the community are wearing a mask than when they’re not wearing a mask,” he said.

One recent study analyzed 14 commonly used masks. Researchers recorded respiratory droplets that escaped from each mask while the person wearing it was talking.

“With the exception of neck fleece, this study provided support that pretty much all cloth mask types reduce expelled droplets,” said Dweik, who was not involved in the research. “Many performed much better than we even originally thought and close to surgical masks.”

Data shows the fitted N95 mask was most effective. Surgical and cloth masks performed well, too. The bandanna, knitted mask and neck fleece were least effective. Authors suggest that the neck fleece actually seemed to disperse large droplets into smaller droplets, which may cause them to be airborne longer, leading to increased infection risk.

But wearing a mask is only one part of preventing COVID-19. Social distancing and regularly disinfecting your hands are also important.

“Taken together, I think, these are very powerful in preventing the spread of infection,” said Dweik. “Each one alone is good but not sufficient. If you do them all, you minimize your risk of spreading or getting the disease much more than just each one by itself.”

Dweik adds that a mask needs to be worn over your mouth and nose to be most effective. He said everyone should wear a mask, even if they don’t have symptoms, because some people with COVID-19 are asymptomatic but still contagious.