Are Neck Gaiters Effective?
A recent study from Duke University has raised questions about neck gaiters and whether or not they serve as effective face coverings for fighting the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Many news outlets have taken this study’s findings and used them to say that neck gaiters are worse than wearing no mask at all. While the study does indicate that the specific neck gaiter tested broke droplets into smaller particles which can stay in the air longer, there is not enough data to categorically say that neck gaiters are worse than other masks or than not wearing a mask at all. GBMC infection prevention expert, Laurie Hart, RN, explained why.
“This study is simply too small to make any overall judgments about the effectiveness of certain kinds of coverings,” she said. “They only tested 14 styles and used just one person as the subject. The same styles could be tested on a different person and have completely different results. While the findings are helpful for directing future research, there isn’t enough data to support that the claim that neck gaiters are ineffective or worse than not wearing a mask.”
There are so many different mask designs available that it is challenging to say whether any one style is more or less effective than others. The goal of the Duke study was not to determine the effectiveness of certain mask styles, it was to learn whether the testing method was valid and could be helpful in future research.
While the findings about neck gaiters weren’t part of the original purpose of the study, they do support what health experts have been saying about materials being a crucial factor in how well a mask works. The neck gaiter tested in the Duke study was made of fleece, which is a very thin material. Laurie explained that this is likely why it broke the particles up into smaller pieces that stayed in the air longer. A gaiter made of a thicker material such cotton would not necessarily do the same thing.
“Material and fit are everything,” Laurie said. “If the covering is thick enough and fits tightly to the face, it should be effective in preventing the spread of COVID-19 regardless of its style.” When deciding what kind of face covering to wear, make sure that a tight seal is created around the face and that there are multiple layers of fabric. There is an easy test that can be done at home to see if a face covering is thick enough. Light a candle and try to blow it out from a safe distance while wearing the mask. If the flame goes out, the mask likely needs an additional layer of fabric in order to be effective.
Laurie advised that this is a rapidly changing situation and that future research may change the current stance on neck gaiters and other kinds of face coverings. “People should continue to look to public health experts for guidance on the best ways to protect themselves and others from COVID-19,” she said. Laurie urged readers not to forget that handwashing and physical distancing are still critical to stopping the spread of this virus. “No matter what,” she expressed, “be mindful of how you act around others and follow the health guidelines to the best of your ability. The only way to get through this pandemic is together.”
Click here to learn more about which types of masks are effective and which are not.
PLEASE NOTE: Because there are so many variables when it comes to types of face coverings, and out of an abundance of caution, GBMC's Incident Command Center team has advised that neck gaiters are not approved for GBMC employees to wear at work.