New study shows which face masks are most effective in curbing COVID-19’s spread – update: gaitors are OK

October 21, 2020

At the top of the list are those that should be reserved for medical professionals, but nearly as effective were multi-layer fabric masks that may be found online, in a boutique, or even made at home.

By Regence

Updated Oct. 21, 2020

You’ve heard it from public health officials, government leaders and probably even your own doctor: One of the best ways to stop the spread of COVID-19 is to wear a face mask.  Since mid-July the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has recommended this for all Americans over age 2.

COVID-19 is spread primarily through respiratory droplets generated when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or talks. The CDC  estimates about 40 percent of people infected with COVID-19 have mild symptoms or no symptoms at all – but they can still transmit the virus to others.

Masks of all types can be found everywhere: surgical masks, homemade masks, designer masks, athletic-inspired masks. It can be hard to know what to choose.

With so many to choose from, which mask is best?

Research by ScienceAdvances shows some masks are much more effective in filtering out these respiratory droplets.

At the top of the list are those that should be reserved for medical professionals – N95 and surgical masks. Nearly as effective were masks available to all of us: double-layer polypropylene masks (many disposable, non-medical masks are made from this material) and triple-layer fabric cotton-poly-cotton masks that may be found online, in a boutique, or even made at home.

What types of masks to avoid?

  • N95 masks with exhalation valves – these are designed to restrict air coming in, but not going out. These provide no protection for those around you.
  • The original research questioned the effectiveness of neck gaiters and bandanas. Subsequent research reported by MIT Medical shows any face covering is better than none, and two or three layers are more effective than one at blocking droplets.

New research shows wearing a mask may also protect you

And, it turns out wearing a mask may not just be an act of goodwill toward others. Recent research published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine suggests wearing a mask may protect you from a severe case of COVID-19 or from contracting the virus at all.

Wear a mask and remember the basics

You can also protect against COVID-19 and other viruses by doing what you’ve heard for months: wash your hands regularly, avoid close contact with those outside your household, and regularly disinfect household surfaces used frequently.  

Learn more about how to care for yourself and your family during this unprecedented time by visiting