New UCSD Article: Masks can help block out many aerosol particles

Posted at 5:20 PM, May 28, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-29 15:31:03-04

LA JOLLA, Calif. (KGTV)-- A new article shows that wearing masks is even more critical than previously thought.

UC San Diego researchers compiled several global studies that looked into how the coronavirus spreads and found that masks can help stop the spread of many aerosol particles.

The idea of wearing masks has become a polarized issue in America. But Dr. Kim Prather, a distinguished professor at the UCSD Scripps Institution of Oceanography, says the science is clear.

"Masks do filter things, and filtering does reduce the spread of disease. That we know," Dr. Prather said.

She and her colleagues released a new article compiling the latest COVID-19 studies around the world. Sneezing and coughing release large spit particles up to 26 feet, so that is clearly a point of concern.

But Dr. Prather says we also need to focus on the invisible aerosols that can float around for hours, from asymptomatic virus carriers.

"They don't have a fever, they're not coughing, they're not sneezing," Dr. Prather said. "But when they're talking, they can produce thousands of aerosols out in their breath, and infect people for days."

That is why she reiterates that wearing masks is imperative.

"You wear a mask not to protect yourself. You wear a mask because you're being thoughtful and protecting other people," Dr. Prather said.

One of the studies compares COVID-19 numbers between Taiwan and New York, which share a similar population. While New York had more than 353,000 positive cases and 24,000 deaths by the time Dr. Prather's paper was published, Taiwan only saw around 440 cases and seven deaths. Dr. Prather attributes Taiwan's drastically low numbers, partly to the quickly enacted masking orders.

"Taiwan never shut down. They just wore masks," Dr. Prather said.

So what kind of facial masks are most efficient? Dr. Prather says one that fits your face properly would protect you the best. Tightly knit, multi-layered cloth masks are good to rewash and reuse. Bandanas can leave many gaps between the contours of your face, which is why it may not be as effective in blocking out particles.

Whatever the style, Dr. Prather says that you see the mask moving up and down while breathing, it is a sign that it is working. The more we protect ourselves now, the quicker we can return to normal.

"We can get back to a functioning society if we wear masks," Dr. Prather said. "Until tests come in to play or a vaccine comes into place, it'll buy us time, and we can reduce the spread if we take this seriously."

Dr. Prather says that while masks do not block 100% of aerosol particles, it is much better to block some than none.