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How effective is your face mask?

Try this at-home test 

We’ve been wearing face masks for several months now to slow the spread of COVID-19. But is the mask you’re wearing each day enough to protect you? 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends wearing masks with at least two, preferably three, layers. Make sure the fabric is tightly woven. A quick and easy way to check your mask for efficacy is to hold it up to the light. Is it see-through? If so, it’s on the thin side and probably not as effective. In this case, do your best to double up the fabric. 

The COVID-19 virus is carried through respiratory particles. When you speak, sing, shout, cough or sneeze, particles are carried out of your mouth and nose. This is why social distancing is so important. Particles carry in the air for a few feet and generally fall, but someone next to you could breathe them in. A mask decreases the amount of virus that comes out of the particles in the air, thus reducing the number of particles someone is expelling into the air. 

At the University of Kentucky, we put several masks to the test to determine which are most effective. Our test is not meant to be scientific. Instead, it is one that you can do at home with a common household item—a candle or lighter. For this experiment, we used a three-ply mask, a paper mask (like one you would find at a hardware store), a neck gaiter and a homemade mask with three thick layers of cotton fabric. We tried to blow out the flame through each mask. 

Test results 

We used a lighter and found that when wearing the three-ply masks, the paper mask and the homemade mask, we were not able to blow out the flame. These masks were most effective. 

The neck gaiter was a different story. We found that while wearing one layer or doubled up, it was easy to blow out the flame. After quadruple-layering the gaiter, we were not able to blow out the flame as easily, but there was some movement when we tried to blow it out. 

The masks that are most effective are not going to be the most comfortable to wear, as they are generally thicker, making it seem harder to breathe. However, the likelihood that you have a significant medical event because of your mask is very low. 

People in various professions have been wearing masks for years. For example, surgeons wear masks for hours on end with no problems. On the other hand, there are people who have medical conditions that make wearing a mask more difficult. The best thing for those folks to do is to stay home, but if they need to go out, they should wear a mask and look for situations where they can take them off and remain socially distant. 

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