Wearing neck gaiter face coverings may not stop coronavirus transmission - the science explained

Wednesday, 12th August 2020, 12:47 pm
Updated Wednesday, 12th August 2020, 12:47 pm
Is a neck gaiter harmful to wear during the coronavirus? (Photo: Shutterstock)

Face coverings are now mandatory in a number of public situations across the UK, such as on public transport, and inside shops and supermarkets.

Face coverings have been defined as “something which safely covers the nose and mouth.” The UK government website states that you can use reusable or single use face coverings, or even fashion your own out of items like “a scarf, bandana, religious garment or hand-made cloth covering.”

However, new research has been released that indicates that neck gaiters might not only be ineffective at stopping the spread of respiratory particles, but that they might actually do more harm than good.

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This is everything you need to know about the study.

What is a neck gaiter?

A neck gaiter, also known as a neck fleece or ‘snood’, is a type of garment worn around the neck, usually by runners.

It is worn around the neck and then when the user desires, it can be pulled up and over the chin, mouth and nose when needed.

What does the new research say?

The recent study, conducted by researchers at Duke University School of Medicine, looked into what types of masks are most effective during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The research found that neck fleeces were the least effective at stopping the transmission, among the different types of masks that were tested. In fact, according to the study, neck gaiters collected a higher number of respiratory droplets due to the fact that the material broke down large droplets into smaller particles.

This poses a problem, as these smaller particles are airborne for longer than large droplets.

The study states, “Considering that smaller particles are airborne longer than large droplets (large droplets sink faster), the use of such a mask might be counterproductive.”

However, the authors of the study explain that the results of the tests undertaken in the research could be affected by a variety of factors, such as how well the mask fits, the wearer's head positioning and speech patterns.

The authors of the study write, “Again, we want to note that the mask tests performed here (one speaker for all masks and four speakers for selected masks) should serve only as a demonstration.

“Inter-subject variations are to be expected, for example due to difference in physiology, mask fit, head position, speech pattern, and such.”

Are gaiters worse than not wearing a mask at all?

Many publications have reported that “neck gaiters might be worse during the pandemic than not wearing a mask at all.”

However, Slate reports that tests on neck gaiters were only conducted on one person.

“In other words, maybe this one guy just didn’t wear the gaiter particularly well, or maybe it didn’t fit his face or maybe the gaiter itself was an uncharacteristic gaiter,” says Slate.

It continues, “If you look at the figure showing the ‘relative droplet count,’ ie how many drops they saw escape the mask compared to wearing no mask, you see that for the three masks they tested on multiple people, the error bars get much larger, which suggests that the fit of a mask might produce a lot of variation (this is less true of the less flexible surgical mask, and much more true of the bandana, which is … a lot like a gaiter).

“That’s one problem with having a sample size of one—there might be something distinct about that person.”