BLACKSBURG, Va. – We’ve all heard it before: if you wear a mask, you can protect others from catching COVID-19.
Now, new research out of Virginia Tech really proves you can protect yourself from COVID-19 by wearing a mask.
“Masks work essentially the same way and offer very similar protection to the wearer,” said Dr. Linsey Marr, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Virginia Tech.
Marr and her team studied 10 different types of homemade mask materials to see which is most effective at blocking airborne particles, including thin cotton, bandanas, pillowcases, microfiber cloth, surgical masks, coffee and HVAC filters and a vacuum bag.
They found that only certain materials blocked particles smaller than one micron.
“Only the vacuum bag, the microfiber cloth and the surgical mask filtered out or blocked more than half of those aerosols,” said Marr.
On the plus side, Marr said most airborne particles carrying around COVID-19 are going to be much bigger, so the other materials can block those larger particles out anywhere from 50% to 80%.
Researchers also found that masks protect others as well as the wearer almost equally.
Based on the research, Marr is recommending a three-layer mask that would block out 75% of small particles and over 90% of larger ones.
It should be made with two soft and tightly woven flexible outer layers like cotton or microfiber and a middle layer meant to filter out particles in the air, like a vacuum bag, a HEPA filter, MERV filter graded 14 or above or a surgical mask.
You can even make your own mask at home.
“They’re buying these HVAC filters and they’re cutting the material out of the filter frame and then cutting pieces to size in their mask,” said Marr.
While N95′s are the gold standard, Marr said any mask is better than none.
“It’s not N95 or bust. It’s not N95 or zero. Cloth masks fall somewhere in between. They do help reduce the amount of virus that’s going to be in the air. And really, anything we can do to reduce that, is going to be helpful,” said Marr.
The material that performed the worst was thin acrylic.