Are cloth masks effective?

Many different types of material and patterns are found in protective cloth masks.

Many different types of material and patterns are found in protective cloth masks.

Halli Bratcher, Memorial Staff Writer

In light of the global pandemic, many changes were pushed upon citizens all over the world. The day-to-day lives of society have been altered greatly, not exactly for the better. 

At Memorial, students, teachers and administrators alike have made many changes to keep the school safe. A few of these sacrifices include an A-B schedule, social distancing and most likely the greatest annoyance, face masks.

At least once a day, the thought of ripping off that  mask enters the mind. This raises the question of the effectiveness of a thin cloth material covering the nose and mouth. 

Are these face masks helping, or are they just a bother?

When determining the effectiveness of a face mask, several variables come into question. The material, number of layers and fit of the mask are all contributing factors to the success of filtration. Most commonly, cotton, silk, polyester, spandex and chiffon are used for homemade or manufactured cloth masks. These masks are generally double layered, but the protection of two layers of fabric may not cut it. Neck gaiters, which have been used as masks have been proven completely ineffective in a study by Duke University.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), an infected person can spread the virus through respiratory droplets. Face masks block the large droplets but some of the smallest ones, known as aerosol particles can slip through some cloth materials which rightfully supports the question of their effectiveness.

Dr. Larry Chu, a Stanford researcher, believes although some small droplets can escape, it still significantly decreases the spread of the virus with a mask. Yet, other factors are major contributors to slowing the spread. 

“Masks are just one important way to prevent this disease from spreading” Chu said. “Washing your hands regularly and thoroughly and keeping at least six feet apart from one another are still vitally important.”

In a study conducted by the American Chemical Society, ACS, it is believed that there is a mixture of materials that aerosol particles could not slip through at all. This mixture filters out 80-99% of the particles and is made by a single layer of tightly wound cotton along with two layers of a spandex-polyester chiffon which is a common fabric for evening gowns. These materials together make the only mask that is even close to comparing to a surgical mask or N95.

It is imperative that N95 and surgical masks are saved for healthcare personnel, although they provide the most protection. The materials for the mask made by ACS may not be readily available to everybody. The best thing the general public can do is find a cloth mask with at least three layers that fits correctly. 

         “When all parties in a gathering are wearing well-constructed, well-fitting masks, it provides an extra layer of safety for everyone,” Amy Price, PhD, a senior research scientist at Stanford said.

            So if it means being a bit uncomfortable and wearing a mask to protect the public, that’s what has to happen to prevent the spread. Mask up Bulldogs- it’s science.

Halli Bratcher- [email protected]