Researchers at Northeastern University have found that wearing a mask and a nylon stocking on your face will provide even better protection and researchers and academics around the world are falling over themselves to say it’s a great idea.
What’s next? A mask, panty hose, and a giant man-sized condom? These people really are insane.
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“It really improved the performance of all of the masks, and it brought several of them up and over the baseline mask we were using, which was a 3M surgical-type mask,” says Loretta Fernandez, an assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering at Northeastern University and one of the scientists who conducted the research.
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NPR reports: Even the 3M surgical mask performed better with added stockings in their study: Testing showed that it went from blocking out 75% of small particles to 90% with the addition of a pantyhose overlayer. By comparison, an N95 respirator, which is designed to create a tight seal around the face, blocks out at least 95% of small particles when worn properly.
“Adding a layer that keeps the mask tight to the face is going to improve the function of any of these masks,” Fernandez explains, “because how well they protect us is not only a matter of what material we’re using to do the filtering but also how well [the mask] seals to the face, so that we’re trying to avoid air making it around the mask into our breathing zone.” The pantyhose layer, she says, helps creates a tighter seal around the face to reduce how much air leaks around loose edges — similar to the seal on an N95 respirator.
The findings come at a time when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is recommending that Americans wear cloth face coverings in public to help reduce the transmission of the coronavirus, but without offering much guidance on the best practices for making such coverings.
“I think it’s really a very important study,” says Ben Cowling, a professor of infectious disease epidemiology at the University of Hong Kong who has studied the efficacy of face masks. “We need better information on what kind of homemade masks, what kind of fabric masks, are the best and how we can improve or upgrade basic masks to make them better.”
The CDC guidelines on cloth face coverings are intended to protect other people from the wearer, since evidence shows that people can spread the coronavirus before they’re even showing symptoms of infection. However, the new research shows that with the added nylon layer, homemade masks may also offer lots more benefit for the wearer.
“Cloth masks,” Cowling says, “most likely provide some protection, maybe not as good as surgical masks” — which are constructed with nonwoven fabrics made from plastics. “But if we can upgrade [cloth masks] with nylon wrapping around the outside or some other special components, then perhaps we can get a cloth mask which is just as good or even better than a surgical mask.”
“It’s a good design feature that they’ve come up with,” says Raina MacIntyre, a biosecurity researcher at the University of New South Wales in Australia and the author of one of the few studies comparing the effectiveness of cloth face coverings with surgical masks. The current shortage of medical-grade masks, she notes, is spurring a new wave of research into creating more effective homemade masks. “There’s some really good solutions out there, some really promising ideas. And this looks like one of them.”