One mask or two? WVU study tests levels of protection

West Virginia Headlines

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (WTRF) – With guidelines lifting and more people out in public places the question remains, one mask or two. 

The CDC and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) recently released a study on the effectiveness of each method, but researchers at West Virginia University took it one step further. 

They wanted to see if the protection the University was giving students and staff measured up.

Double masking is just one more thing where if you choose to do it, we’re just showing folks how to do it right.

Tim Nurkiewicz, Chair, WVU Department of Physiology and Pharmacology, Director of the WVU Center for Inhalation Toxicology

They’ve already tested how well single masks work, now the team turned its attention to two. 

The disposable masks are relatively good filters, but they fit very poorly. You can see the gaps around the side of them and they don’t fit so well over your nose or around your chin. Whereas the cloth masks or the gaiters either of those fit very well, but they’re poor filters.

Tim Nurkiewicz, Chair, WVU Department of Physiology and Pharmacology, Director of the WVU Center for Inhalation Toxicology

Which should mean two masks would be more effective. 

In order to find out, WVU designed its own study, varying rom the CDC’s methods. 

It didn’t really test how well this works in a real-world situation where people are talking and moving around and doing the things they’re going to do in their daily life.

Karen Woodfork, Teaching Associate Professor, WVU Department of Physiology and Pharmacology

Instead of using mannequins like the CDC, four people wearing different combinations of masks were put in a room filled with saline droplets that are the same sizes as the ones we produce when breathing.

Then, that person is put through a fit test. It’s the same test that’s done for people being fitted with medical or industrial respirators. The test consists of four exercises that involve moments like bending down, speaking and turning your head.

The test subject wears the mask that’s being evaluated and we poke a hole in it so we can sample the air on the inside of the mask and on the outside of the mask. The difference between those two sample rates is the effectiveness of the mask or the protection.

Tim Nurkiewicz, Chair, WVU Department of Physiology and Pharmacology, Director of the WVU Center for Inhalation Toxicology

While it’s not as protective as an N-95, the study showed two masks are more effective at keeping the particles away. 

With a single mask you’re getting usually about 20 to 30 maybe 40% of your particles getting filtered depending upon the mask. If you’re wearing a double mask, you’re filtering out usually upwards of 80% according to the research we have done.

Karen Woodfork, Teaching Associate Professor, WVU Department of Physiology and Pharmacology

The research team said they aren’t mandating double mask wearing. They’ve previously done studies that found a single mask is effective protection. They just want people to know that this is an option if you’re in a crowd and want more protection.

There won’t be a magic button that’s pressed and one day this is over. Rather, we’re seeing gradual improvements every day as the vaccine works out, as we’re more effective in our physical distancing, masking, washing our hands. All of those things together will get us through this.

Tim Nurkiewicz, Chair, WVU Department of Physiology and Pharmacology, Director of the WVU Center for Inhalation Toxicology

But remember, it’s all about the fit.

If both those things are loose on your face, it’s not really going to be doing the job.

Karen Woodfork, Teaching Associate Professor, WVU Department of Physiology and Pharmacology

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

video

More Video

Don't Miss

Trending Stories

More Top News

WTRF 7News Twitter