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Virologist encourages use of face masks with ‘multiple layers of fabric’

Protective masks in cotton sewn displayed for sale in front of a tailor shop in Berlin, Germany, Thursday, Aug. 13, 2020. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)

A recent study indicates that some masks or face coverings may be better than others in protecting against the spread of COVID-19. Neck gaiters were reported to be the worst.

“That study has been getting a lot of attention,” said Dr. Angela Rasmussen, Columbia University virologist, on KIRO Radio’s Gee & Ursula Show. “Certainly because I think a lot of people have relied on neck gaiters as a form of face covering that they might have around the house. But it does suggest what you might expect from that. Neck gaiters are usually made of very fine material. They may not be very protective in terms of being able to form an actual physical barrier because they might be porous.”

Neck gaiters and buffs are also typically only one layer of fabric.

“Most surgical masks, even do it yourself masks, are usually multiple layers of fabric between your face and the outside environment,” Rasmussen said. “And neck gaiters … are usually just one layer, so they are probably going to provide less protection.”

Rasmussen is not sure, however, about the conclusion that neck gaiters are worse than not wearing masks at all.

“That study wasn’t really designed to look at that, so I don’t think that that’s settled science at all, but I would encourage people to, if you’re wearing a face covering, to put on a face covering that is going to have multiple layers of fabric between you and the external environment,” she said.

Or, Rasmussen says, just buy a surgical mask.

“Those are in stock in many places and they’re pretty inexpensive,” she said. “So you could always stop worrying about whether your mask is good enough and just purchase a surgical mask to wear.”

The race for a vaccine

In good COVID-19 news, Rasmussen says there are an assortment of vaccines moving forward.

“It’s good news that we have an assortment of vaccines that are moving forward in the pipeline to choose from,” she said. “That means that there’s a better chance that one of them, at least, will be safe and effective.”

However, even once there’s a vaccine, COVID-19 won’t instantly be out of our lives.

“First of all, when a vaccine is made available, it won’t be available to everybody at first. It’s just, we can’t immediately manufacture doses for the entire world population overnight,” Rasmussen said. “I think there’s also a lot of people who are skeptical of this accelerated vaccine trial process, and people may not be willing to get the vaccine, which is a huge problem. And that’s why some vaccine preventable diseases, such as measles, have made a comeback because there are more and more people who are deciding not to be vaccinated.”

The goal is to engage everyone and get people on board with getting a vaccine if they’re able to do so, she added.

“And then finally, we know that SARS-CoV-2 can infect some animals, including cats, possibly including rodents. And that might mean that there are natural wildlife reservoirs, either in the form of feral cats who just live in the wild, or rodents, or other types of wild animal species that might be able to be infected with the virus and carry it around.”

The virus could potentially then infect someone who is not vaccinated or is still susceptible to infection.

“So this may be with us for a long time to come, which is why it’s really important that as many people get vaccinated as possible once the vaccine is available,” Rasmussen said. “Because herd immunity is really how you control viruses like this from continuing to affect the human population.”

Listen to the Gee and Ursula Show weekday mornings from 9 a.m. – 12 p.m. on KIRO Radio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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