Which is most effective?

Me and my face mask

There’s no getting out of it now: the University of Groningen wants you to put on a face mask when you’re at the library or in class. Not all masks are equally effective, though. And can you still look cool wearing one?
By Alessandro Tessari

There is a lot of debate about whether face masks protect the user from getting infected. However, what we do know is that you can protect others when you wear one. A recent study in Science Advances also shows that it does make a difference which type of mask you use.  

The researchers analysed fourteen different kinds including surgical ones, cloth ones and alternative solutions, like bandanas. 

You won’t be surprised to hear that surgical masks and the N95 – the American standard that filters at least 95 percent of the particles from the air – work best. However, the simple cloth ones work too, especially double layered ones with an inner layer of polypropylene. These masks stop 80 to 99 percent of the droplets. However, do make sure you use the double layered ones. One layer may make breathing easier, but hardly helps at all.

On the other end, substitutive items, such as bandanas or wind collars, were proven to be useless. In fact, they’re detrimental, because they may break down larger particles into smaller ones. Smaller droplets and aerosols can travel farther and remain in the air longer. So please, don’t use those.

One more thing that’s really important: if you use a face mask, do it correctly. Make sure the mask covers both your mouth and your nose. Sebastien Lequime, expert in virus ecology and evolution at the UG, agrees that ‘wearing the right mask in the correct way is a truly helpful measure. However, it should not be the only measure, but an addition to social distancing.’ 

And now for the million dollar question: can you look cool with a face mask? Judge for yourself! The students in the photos below are wearing everything from a surgical mask to a personalised mask with a club logo.

‘We acted as soon as we discovered a positive case in our faculty’, says liberal arts and sciences student Birgit Eggink. As chairperson of study association Caerus, she premiered the personalised face mask. ‘We commissioned a textile printing company to make the masks; they are double layered cloth masks with our logo.’

‘In Taiwan, it’s common knowledge that surgical masks and N95 are the best ones’, says Yijae Chang Chien, who is doing a master in media innovation and creation. That’s why she wears a surgical mask. ‘Our government asks us to wear those specifically.’ She also took precautions before coming to the Netherlands. ‘I brought three hundred surgical masks with me, in case I can’t go home for the entire year and I can’t find them in Groningen.’

‘My mom made this one for me out of cloth’, says neuroscience student Imke Hrycyk. She was in Chile doing her research internship when the pandemic started. ‘I managed to fly back to Germany just before the borders closed.’ She shows off her mask with pride. ‘It was impossible to find face masks in Chile, so my mom made two for me. The other one has longer elastics that go around my head. I prefer this one though; it’s more comfortable.’

‘As far as I know N95 are the best ones; however, I wear surgical ones because they fit more easily with my glasses’, explains Mattia Lenti, PhD student in chemical engineering. Mattia regularly disinfects them. ‘I apply spray sanitizer after using them. It allows me to use them more than once, and I feel even safer.’

‘I use surgical masks just once, as is suggested,’ says dentistry student George Chamoun as he heads out of the building and carefully takes off his mask to throw it away.

‘Before the summer, it was difficult to find shops selling masks here, so I brought some with me when I came back from Italy’, says international business student Tommaso Begal. ‘At home, I have a dozen N95 masks and surgical ones and then two made of cloth like this one.’

‘I order them from the internet; it’s easier and faster’, says Sari Mangia Woods, who’s doing a master in marine biology. ‘Actually, I ordered my last batch a few days ago. I’m waiting for fifty N95 masks.’


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