in

Latest mask research shows that state mandates help the economy, which face coverings are ineffective

face shields masks
Photo via Senado Federal/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Now that the U.S. has gotten through the Thanksgiving holiday, it will take a couple of weeks before we see the impact of millions of people traveling across the country during a pandemic despite explicit warnings from health experts not to do so. While many people wore masks in airports and on airplanes—and while stopping for gas if they were taking a road trip—COVID-19 rates and deaths will most likely peak even higher in December. 

That’s why the continued wearing of masks in our everyday lives is imperative. More research continues to emerge about the masks and whether they should be worn to help stave off coronavirus transmissions, and the vast majority of it shows masks are vital to keep people safe from COVID-19. 

Here’s a sampling of some of the newest studies to be published along with other research we continue to discover. 

–Seegert, N., Gaulin, M., Yang, MJ., Navarro-Sanchez, F. (2020). Impact of Masks on Economic Activity. Marriner S. Eccles Institute For Economics and Quantitative Analysis. (Nov. 23, 2020). University of Utah

Utah is one of the most recent of the 37 states that now have a mask mandate, and this study from the University of Utah’s business school shows that it could help the nation’s economy. Researchers studied data that included consumer mobility via cell phone GPS, credit card spending, and COVID-19 case numbers from all 3,142 U.S. counties. They determined that “promoting personal protective measures like mask-wearing decreases the number of COVID-19 cases, increases consumer mobility, and increases consumer spending. … This research supports increased mask use as an effective means for sustaining economic activity until a vaccine is widely accessible.” The study also determined that statewide mask mandates were more effective than mandates that were county-wide only. 

Looking at a survey of Utah consumers, the researchers found that people are 51% more likely to go to a store (and spend money) if everyone inside was wearing a mask. But if only half the people inside were wearing a face covering, Utahns would be 13% less likely to enter. “Consumer mobility increases after mask requirements are in place,” the researchers wrote. “Data measuring consumer mobility (or movement within an economy) show people are willing to increase their mobility and economic activity if they feel safe.”

–Lindsley, W., Blachere, F., Law, B., Beezhold, D., & Noti, J. (2020). Efficacy of face masks, neck gaiters and face shields for reducing the expulsion of simulated cough-generated aerosols. medrxiv.com (Nov. 16, 2020)

Studies from earlier in the pandemic have shown that face shields aren’t effective in stopping coronavirus transmission while neck gaiters could be even worse than not wearing a mask at all. This randomized controlled trial study, which has not been peer-reviewed, used a simulator to mimic the aerosols that would be spread by coughing and measured how well different kinds of face coverings blocked those particles. The N95 mask blocked 95% of the aerosols (just like the name of the mask implies), a double-layer neck gaiter blocked 60%, a cloth face mask blocked 51%, and a single-layer neck gaiter blocked 47%. The face shield only managed to block 2%. 

Though there were limitations on this study—for instance, it was a cough simulator and not an actual human coughing, and it didn’t study the aerosols that would be released by simply breathing or speaking—the researchers still concluded that “face masks and neck gaiters are preferable to face shields as source control devices for cough aerosols.”

–Fischer, R., Morris, D., van Doremalen, N., Sarchette, S., Matson, M., & Bushmaker, T. et al. (2020). Effectiveness of N95 respirator decontamination and reuse against SARS-CoV-2 virus. Emerging Infectious Diseases, 26(9), 2253-2255. CDC.gov (September 2020)

In normal times, the N95 masks that are mainly worn by healthcare workers in healthcare settings are disposed of after one use. But since there’s been a PPE shortage during the pandemic, N95s have had to constantly be reused. This research letter for the CDC sought to determine exactly how much an N95 respirator can be used after it’s been contaminated and then cleaned. The researchers used four methods of decontamination—UV light, dry heat of 158 degrees Fahrenheit, 70% ethanol, and vaporized hydrogen peroxide (VHP)—and afterward, the researchers measured the masks’ effectiveness after two hours of wear following the cleaning. 

Tests showed that there was no significant decrease in the masks’ performance after the first cleaning, but subsequent decontaminations showed more degradation, especially with the masks that were treated with the ethanol and heat. The researchers concluded that N95 masks can be re-used up to three times, assuming the fit of the mask and its seal are unaffected, before they needed to be replaced. 

In case you missed last week’s blog post, the spotlighted research included another study on the effectiveness of state mask mandates and a study on why homemade face coverings could be better than surgical masks. 

Written by Josh Katzowitz