Researchers Find That Neck Gaiters Are Ineffective

Researchers at Duke University found that neck gaiters are ineffective and could possibly be counterproductive in slowing the spread of COVID-19.

What We Know:

  • In a recent Duke University study, researchers found a simple way to compare the effectiveness of different types of face coverings. Using a laser and a cell phone camera, the team was able to track particles released from a person’s mouth. The technique was introduced by chemist and physicist Martin Fischer. The group compared 14 different face coverings using Fischer’s test, including hospital masks, like the N95 respirator, and simple homemade alternatives like bandanas.
  • “There’s a lot of controversy and people say, ‘Well, masks don’t do anything.’ Well, the answer is some don’t, but most do,” said Duke professor Warren S. Warren. The study found that a fitted N95 mask is the most effective, allowing virtually no droplets to spread. However, the popular neck gaiter fared poorly in the study, ranking worse than not wearing a mask at all.

Warren commented on the efficacy of neck gaiters: “These neck gaiters are extremely common in a lot of places because they’re very convenient to wear. But the exact reason why they’re so convenient, which is that they don’t restrict air, is the reason why they’re not doing much of a job helping people.”

  • Neck gaiters have become popular amongst runners and athletic crowds because they are made of a breathable, lightweight fabric. The study found that this fabric breaks large particles into many smaller ones which are more likely to linger in the air longer.
  • The study also found that bandanas and masks with exhalation valves may also not be very effective. Researchers say these coverings do okay in protecting the wearer but fall short in protecting the outside world. The CDC recommends not using masks with exhalation valves because “this type of mask does not prevent the person wearing the mask from transmitting COVID-19 to others”.

Although this study doesn’t bode well certain kinds of masks, researchers stress that people who don’t have access to N95s or hospital-grade masks shouldn’t worry. “But the broad take-home picture – that masks do work in cutting down transmission and that some masks that you can easily get are better than others – potentially has value in protecting everybody and getting us out of this awful situation,” Warren said.