Research confirms that surgical masks effectively reduce outgoing airborne particles from talking or coughing, even after allowing for leakage around the sides of the mask. Using masks as well as other face coverings can reduce the flow of airborne particles that are made during breathing, talking, coughing or sneezing, protecting other people from viruses carried by those particles such as SARS-CoV2 and influenza.1✅ JOURNAL REFERENCE
High-efficiency masks such as N95 respirators are made to have a tight seal to the face, while surgical and most cloth face masks leave small gaps around the sides, which can be reduced when they’re worn correctly.
The researchers studied particles flowing from these gaps by sitting volunteers facing an instrument that counts airborne particles down to a size of half a micron. The 12 volunteers read aloud or coughed, with and without a surgical mask of the type commonly made use of by the public, either with their mouth directly in front of the funnel of the particle counter, turned to the side or with their head lowered or raised to count particles passing directly through the mask or leaking around the sides.
The researchers found that wearing a mask while talking reduced particles directly through the mask by an average of 93%, from the bottom by 91%, the sides by 85% and the top by 47%, although with substantial variability between individuals. They got similar results for coughing.
The researchers used simulations to model the overall reduction in particles as a result of wearing a mask, taking into account leakage around the edges. They calculated that the overall efficiency of masks was approximately 70% for talking and 90% for coughing.
While air escape does limit the overall efficiency of surgical masks at reducing expiratory particle emissions, such masks nevertheless provide substantial reduction. The study results confirm that mask wearing provides a significant reduction in the probability of disease transmission via expiratory particles, particularly when both infected and susceptible people wear masks. Masks also redirect the flow of air from a high-velocity plume from the talker or cougher towards anybody in front of them.
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