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NMSU researchers find masks, distance important collaborative tools for COVID-19 protection

A team of researchers from the College of Engineering at New Mexico State University have published a study that tests the effectiveness of face masks in close human interactions.

Pistol Pete statue with a mask on his face effectiveness of face masks.
A team of researchers from New Mexico State University’s College of Engineering conducted a study to examine the effectiveness of face masks. The study was published in an American Institute of Physics journal. (NMSU photo by Josh Bachman)

 

 

Two face masks on a table
Of the five types of face masks tested in a study conducted by researchers in the College of Engineering at New Mexico State University, the N-95 version (left) was found to offer the best protection. (Courtesy photo)

The study, “Can face masks offer protection from airborne sneeze and cough droplets in close-up, face-to-face human interactions? – A quantitative study,” was published in Physics of Fluids, an American Institute of Physics journal. Engineering graduate students Javed Akhtar, Abner Luna Garcia and Leonardo Saenz, and Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Associate Professors Sarada Kuravi, Fangjun Shu and Krishna Kota authored the study.

The study aimed to verify if a face mask offers protection from airborne viral transmission in close-up human interaction scenarios such as in social gatherings, restaurants, airplanes and hospitals.

Using a simulated close-up interaction scenario, the quantitative study found face masks are effective in blocking foreign airborne droplets, but enough aerosol particles could still pass through them to make a healthy person catch the virus if the people are close to each other.

“At a quick glance, all the face masks tested seem to be highly effective in blocking the foreign airborne cough and sneeze droplets,” Kota said. “Even the worst performer – the cloth mask – could filter almost 96.5 percent droplets and leaked only 3.5 percent. However, when we link these leakage percentages to the viral load in a sneeze or a cough of an infected person, we found that even these small leakages could be sufficient to infect a susceptible person. Since this result is more relevant to close interaction scenarios, we proposed in the paper to consider avoiding such interactions if possible. The results are also applicable to any outdoor or indoor scenario in general where air velocities could be similar to the tested velocity, for example with desk fans and car air conditioning systems.”

The researchers tested five types of masks, N-95, surgical, cloth with a filter, cloth and wetted cloth with a filter. The N-95 offered the best protection as it was the only mask that didn’t experience any leakage of airborne droplets.

To read the entire paper visit https://aip.scitation.org/doi/10.1063/5.0035072. The study was funded by NMSU’s College of Engineering and the Office of the Vice President of Research.

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