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See You Later, Neck Gaiter? No, Maybe It's OK as COVID-19 Mask

August 18, 2020

Do I owe humanity an apology for occasionally wearing a neck gaiter as a COVID-19 mask? Is it possible, as a recent Duke University study suggested, that the neck gaiter is such a loser as a mask that it actually creates more droplets that it stops? I have been spreading news about COVID-19 in this forum in good faith for months. But in this time have I become, unwittingly, a potential neck-gaitered superspreader every time I leave the house and squeeze my noggin into one of those unspeakably tight tubes of single-ply, machine-washable cotton? Luckily, gaiter-shaming is meeting some scientific pushback. Yes, the Duke study found that an N95 mask transmitted less than 0.1 of particles and the neck gaiter 110 percent -- that's 10 percent more than the 100 percent baseline the researchers used to represent someone speaking with no mask. The researchers concluded that the additional 10 percent could be a byproduct of the neck-gaiter fabric (in this case, fleece) shearing larger infectious droplets into multiple smaller ones. The smaller ones, in theory, could remain airborne longer. "The fabrics are not acting like a sharpe sieve," Linsey Maar, one of the world's top aerosol authorities and a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Virginia Tech, told the New York Times. "That's not how filtration works." The Duke researchers say they had hoped to position the study as a test of how to test masks cheaply, not as ranking of 14 mask types. (The study, published Aug. 7 in the journal Science Advances, used a cardboard box with a lens, a laser and a phone’s camera to track particles released from a person’s mouth while saying, "Stay healthy, people.") The mask tests, the authors wrote in the paper, "should serve only as a demonstration." That's not how it worked out when the results were distributed nationally in the media. "The press coverage has careened out of control," Warren S. Warren, a Duke chemist and study coauthor, told ScienceNews.org. So maybe there's hope for the neck-gaiter as a COVID-19 mask. The study didn't offer much guidance on gaiter construction -- and it only tested a gaiter on one person -- but they're available in different materials and thicknesses. My cotton neck gaiters, though single-ply, are easily folded in the mouth and nose area to create at least two-ply thickness. A week ago, I was ready to unload my collection of washable neck gaiters. They're no N95, but at least now there's no reason for anyone to say, "See you later, neck gaiter." No apologies necessary. Not feeling well? Call your healthcare provider for guidance and try to avoid going directly to an emergency department or urgent care center, as this could increase the chances of the disease spreading. Click here to schedule a virtual visit with a Hartford HealthCare-GoHealth Urgent Care provider. Stay with Hartford HealthCare for everything you need to know about the coronavirus threat. Click here for information updated daily. Listen and subscribe to Hartford HealthCare’s More Life series on Apple Podcasts by clicking here. Stay fit. Stay happy. Stay healthy. And keep on top of COVID-19 with Hartford HealthCare’s daily text alerts. Subscribe by texting MoreLife to 31996.