Earlier today we posted a story called, “Triathletes: stop wearing a neck gaiter as a mask” based on research out of Duke University. Since publishing that story, several outlets have reported on the study’s findings, clarifying that while it is true that the neck gaiter allowed more droplets to pass through it in their study (even when compared to no mask at all) the purpose of the study was to refine testing methods, and the results should not be taken as gospel.
This seems like a small distinction, but makes a big difference when interpreting the results. As was reported in Quartz, “Without comparing this new droplet-measuring method to existing methods, it shouldn’t be used to completely rule out buffs as a face covering.” Basically, this means that if the researchers’ new testing method is sound, the mask ranking might be as well. But without further studies on their testing method, their rankings need to be taken with a grain of salt.
Two scientists who participated in the study told Wired that this was never intended to be a definitive mask ranking. While they did discover that the neck gaiters created smaller droplets that they believe could stay airborne for longer, they can’t be sure what this means for COVID-19 transmission just yet. “What we don’t want people taking away is: ‘This mask will work. This will not.’ It’s not a guide to masks. It is a demonstration of a new, simple methodology for quickly and somewhat crudely visualizing the effect of a mask,” said Martin Fischer.
The takeaway is that there are likely more effective masks than the neck gaiter, but it’s still better than nothing. Runners should continue to cover their faces indoors, and outdoors when they’re unable to socially distance. If you want to take extra precautions, double-layer your neck gaiter or opt for a cloth mask instead.