No, Leg Warmers Are No Worse Than a Face Mask
There is a new study that claims neck gaiters like Buffs are worse than not wearing a mask at all. I’m not sure if this study should be taken at face value, but it is also reasonable to be suspicious of buffs, bandanas and other face masks that are not designed to work with a mask.
(To be clear: Buff is a company that makes thin spandex leg warmers around the neck, which many refer to as eponyms “buffs.” They also make special face masks . This mask was not tested in the research we did. What we’re talking about here .)
To learn more about face masks, watch the video below:
We’ve known for a long time that N95 respirators provide the best protection for both the wearer and those around them. Surgical “treatment” masks – These disposable medical masks are another best way to keep most (but not all) of your respiratory droplets with you and possibly provide protection from others.
Since these masks are not readily available, cloth masks are what most of us end up wearing. Sheet masks provide protection in the same way as disposable treatment masks, although they may not be as effective.
However, not all masks are the same. When we were all trying to find cloth masks, companies started to advertise different types of masks. Anyone who sells leggings has advertised their leggings; companies that made masks with valves sold masks with valves. Of course, this does not mean that this is the best choice.
What this study found
There is no great way to test masks just to make sure they are “good enough” to protect against coronavirus. Medical masks go through certain quality checks, but fashion masks do not have such a protocol. And the ones that you sew or improvise at home.
Therefore, a group of researchers from North Carolina published an article describing an inexpensive tool that can be used to test masks. The device is a box with a laser and a cell phone camera; you put your masked face on the box and speak into it. Light from the laser bounces off droplets that are ejected from your mouth (or droplets that don’t come out of your mouth, depending on how well the mask works) and is recorded by the camera.
The device does not check if people are sick or if an infectious dose of the virus has been delivered; he’s just looking for drops in the air. The coronavirus did not participate in this test.
So, to test the device, the researchers talked into the box while wearing various masks. As expected, humans produced very few drops while wearing the N95, with surgical masks performing better and cloth masks varying based on their materials and designs.
But there is a big caveat: this was a proof of concept to see if the box can measure drops and if the drops look different from mask to mask. This is not a definitive test of the masks themselves. In fact, the researchers wrote in their conclusion:
Again, we want to point out that the mask tests done here (one speaker for all masks and four speakers for the selected masks) should only serve as a demonstration. Intersubjective variation is to be expected, for example due to differences in physiology, mask fit, head position, speech imaging, etc.
What you need to know about the different types of masks?
First, if something isn’t actually a mask, we shouldn’t expect it to act like a mask. Both the CDC and WHO recommend that the mask fit snugly around your mouth and nose, which excludes buffs as well as bandanas tied in a bank robber style. They also caution against wearing a mask with an exhalation valve , as this simply throws your microbial air out into the world.
None of this is new. New to this study is the suggestion that the buff may be worse than nothing, because its open weave seems to divide large drops into smaller ones. This could be a problem. Do you see all these sweet words? This is the best way to describe the results. It is possible that buffs can be worse than nothing, but this issue requires further study. No one has studied whether buffs actually increase the likelihood that someone might get sick.
I think it’s worth revisiting your buff if you are wearing it. I know a lot of runners like to wear them around their necks so they can tighten them up if they get overtaken. We now have some data to suggest that this might not be a good idea, but we already knew that the buff is not really a mask, so maybe we shouldn’t have relied on them in the first place.