Mask-wearing alone, without social distancing, may not be enough to prevent the coronavirus from spreading, according to new research published Tuesday in the journal Physics of Fluids.
“This study, which can be treated as precautionary, provides quantitative support to the guidelines proposed by the medical research community that wearing a mask and avoiding close face-to-face or frontal interactions as much as possible will help in preventing the transmission and spreading of virus particles such as Covid-19 through sneezes and coughs,” said the study, from researchers at the Consortium for Particulate Suspensions at New Mexico State University.
“If the relevant social distancing guidelines are compromised, the study shows that foreign airborne sneeze and cough droplets could pass through all the masks tested (except for the N-95 mask) even when assuming a 100% snug fit,” the researchers said.
Researchers used a machine to simulate coughs and sneezes and tested five types of masks with no leakage around the edges. The masks tested were an N95 mask, a surgical mask, a two-layer cloth mask, a regular cloth and a wet two-layer cloth mask.
In experiments that simulated a virus carrier wearing a mask, they found that many small sneeze or cough droplets were still able to escape the mask, even when it was snug. Therefore, both virus carriers and susceptible people could consider wearing masks to reduce the transmission.
“A mask definitely helps, but if the people are very close to each other, there is still a chance of spreading or contracting the virus,” study author Krishna Kota, an associate professor at New Mexico State University, said in a statement. “It’s not just masks that will help. It’s both the masks and distancing.”