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New study questions effectiveness of using neck fleeces as masks in COVID-19 era

Duke University tested 14 different kinds of masks for their researchers.

SAN ANTONIO — For months we've been told that mask-wearing, social distancing, and washing your hands frequently is the best way to control the spread of coronavirus. But a new study may be shedding a different light on one of those three safety measures. 

Duke University recently completed a study about mask-wearing, and the results were rather surprising when it came to a specific kind of mask—the neck fleece coverings that many of us are wearing.

"Typically what mask-wearing does is it reduces the number of respiratory droplets that leave our bodies from our mouths and our nose when we talk sneeze or cough," said Dr. Emily Volk, the senior vice presidenct of Clinical Services at University Health System. "The study that you are referring to does look at specific kinds of face coverings in a way that other studies haven't really broken it down before to my knowledge."

Duke researchers tested 14 different kinds of masks, including surgical, N95, cotton and polypropylene masks, as well as neck fleeces. They studied a person talking 10 times wearing these masks and one without for a control trial. 

Most of the options reduced the number of respiratory droplets transmitted, but the neck fleece was found to be the least effective. 

"According to their observations, the particles from the wearer actually become smaller and spread out even further when one has that mask on versus not wearing a mask at all," Volk said. 

The study doesn't get into whether it was the material that made the neck fleece ineffective or the way it was worn, but Volk says this certainly does not mean you should go without a mask. 

"I think it is clear that this study suggests that we need to learn more about how their masks work during this pandemic," she said. "That being said, face coverings in general are a good thing to help control the spread of this virus, along with safe distancing and hand hygiene."