October 12, 2020 -- Although neck gaiters aren’t the recommended face covering for slowing the spread of the coronavirus, they still provide more protection than no face covering at all, according to a new study by researchers at the University of Georgia.
The study hasn’t yet been published or peer-reviewed, but it sheds light into potential options as people don face coverings this fall.
“Per CDC guidelines, using face covers to prevent the spread of COVID-19 is of the utmost importance,” Suraj Sharma, the lead author and a professor of textiles and merchandising, said in a news release.
According to CDC recommendations last updated on Aug. 27, the ideal face covering should have two or more layers of washable, breathable fabric and completely cover the mouth and nose. The CDC urges caution for gaiters, saying that “evaluation is ongoing but effectiveness is unknown at this time.”
“The level of protection provided by a face covering appears to be substantially driven by the number and quality of layers of material and not whether it’s in the form of a gaiter or a mask,” Sharma said.
Sharma’s team modeled their research on a previous study by Duke University, which used a laser to measure respiratory droplets after different types of masks were worn while speaking. In that study, cotton masks with multiple layers reduced the spread better than bandanas and neck gaiters. The study was published in Science Advances in early August.
For the UGA study, researchers used a 3D-printed box to reduce environmental air particles, a Class 1000 clean room and a laser. They tested four bestselling two-layer cloth face masks from Amazon, five of the top single-layer gaiters from Amazon and three multi-layer gaiters from Mission, a textile accessories company that provided funding for the study.
During the study, participants said “Stay healthy, people” five times through each material, and droplets were measured during a 40-second period. A computer algorithm calculated the number of remaining droplets at both the 30-second and 40-second marks. They tested each face covering three times.
Overall, single-layer gaiters provided a 77% average reduction in respiratory droplets compared with wearing no face covering. Two-layer masks provided an 81% reduction, and multi-layer gaiters made with polyester and spandex provided a 96% reduction.
“There has been a tremendous amount of conflicting information put out in recent months on face coverings, leading many people to believe that gaiters provide little to no protection, relative to masks,” Sharma told Yahoo Life.
“Fighting this pandemic requires us to encourage everyone to wear face coverings, and excluding a very popular face covering is a mistake,” he said.