In August, a study out of Duke University made big news when it suggested that neck gaiters were even less effective in protecting against COVID-19 than wearing no mask at all. While the Duke University finding was highly challenged at the time, a new study is suggesting that the Duke findings may have been accurate. An October study also found that a single-layer neck gaiter wasn’t very effective in protecting against COVID-19.
Like the Duke University study, this set of researchers looked at commonly available masks and assessed their effectiveness. The key difference in this study was that instead of assessing the droplets that the wearer produced through the mask, they looked at the droplets the mask protected the wearer from. Unsurprisingly, N95 and surgical masks were the two most effective, and neck gaiters were the least. However, researchers also found that, when worn in a single layer, the neck gaiter blocked 47 per cent of respiratory aerosols, but when doubled up, they blocked up to 60 per cent, making them comparable to the procedure masks. Three ply cloth face masks only blocked 51 per cent. Folding the stretchy neck gaiter fabric so it is doubled up is an easy fix that can make a big difference.
Buff makes a statement
From the beginning, the neck gaiter company Buff has advised against using its products for COVID-19 protection. The company even went so far as to release a statement in the summer saying, “While our multifunctional headwear products cover the entire front of the face (nose, mouth, chin and neck), they are not scientifically proven by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) to prevent you from: (1) contracting a virus/disease/illness or (2) passing a virus/disease/illness to someone else.”
Should triathletes be wearing neck gaiters as masks?
Many athletes have been photographed wearing neck gaiters as their mask of choice, but based on several studies that have now emerged suggesting against it, it might be best to heed that advice.
While research of mask effectiveness is a growing area of interest and a developing practice, neck gaiters haven’t received the best rep thus far. These products are something most Canadian triathletes own, but if you’ve got another option, it’s likely more protective than your winter warmth layer. If a neck gaiter is all you’ve got, then doubling up is safer than wearing just one.