There's been a lot of confusion around the efficacy of masks since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, but a paper published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine appears to confirm that people who wear masks are likely to experience less severe COVID-19 symptoms because they breathe in fewer SARS-CoV-2 (novel coronavirus) particles.
According to the paper, researchers determined this by studying COVID-19 transmission in caged hamsters separated by partitions made of surgical masks. However, animal studies are not always a predictor of how transmission works in people, which is why they also looked at various events throughout the pandemic, including an outbreak in a Tyson chicken plant
At Tyson all patients and staff were masked and subsequently rapidly developed antibodies to SARS-CoV-2 after exposure to a single symptomatic patient with COVID-19.
The Which? study assessed how well masks filter particles, as well as how breathable and comfortable they are to wear, and if they're able to survive multiple washes and wears without degrading. It found that the two top-rated face coverings, from NEQI and Bags of Ethics, combined effective filtration with a comfortable and breathable fit. Meanwhile, the £2 Step Ahead mask was found to be an excellent option for those on a strict budget.
At the other end of the scale three face coverings were deemed so poor at filtration that Which? graded them 'Don’t Buys'. These included the Termin8 face covering (sold in Lloyds Pharmacy and WHSmith), Etiquette face coverings (sold in Superdrug) and the Asda White Patterned face mask. All of these masks were single-layer stretchy fabric masks.
What these two studies show is that while we wait for a vaccine, wearing a multi-layered mask, together with washing your hands and physical distancing, remains the best way of fighting COVID-19.
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