Mask myth-busting: why to wear them and why they work


BLACKSBURG, Va. (WFXR)— Rumors surrounding the effectiveness of masks have been debunked with the help of experts.

The Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine at Virginia Tech set up a series of experiments to test the effectiveness of different types of masks, including those that can even be done at home.

“The idea is that the mask is a barrier so that if we’re breathing out and we happen to have viral particles in our breath, from either our mouths or our noses, the mask will capture those,” explained Dr. Laura Hungerford, Epidemiologist and Head of the Population Health Sciences Department at Virginia Tech’s Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine.

Using a miniature smoke machine to represent a mask-wearer’s breathing, masks and face coverings of different thicknesses were tested to see how much “breath” they let through.

The thin, nylon, pull-up face coverings many wear around their necks did not stop smoke from coming through much at all.

“The smoke generated literally travels through the mask, and it leaks,” said Pete Jobst, Director of College Facilities at Virginia Tech’s Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine.

Double-layered cotton masks and homemade masks performed better, providing more protection and forced the smoke out to the sides. The KN95 masks and surgical masks provided the best protection against smoke penetration.

In another experiment, Jobst used both a candle and a mirror to test the mask. Masks that were of proper thickness did not permit Jobst to blow out the candle or fog up the mirror when he exhaled.

Not only does the type of mask you wear impact its effectiveness, but the way you wear your mask is just as important. Experts say that your mask should be fitted to your face and cover both your mouth and nose in order for the mask to do its intended job.

“Essentially, the more restrictive the mask, the better it’s going to contain your respiration – what you expire from your mouth,” explained Jobst.

The Blacksburg Volunteer Rescue Squad helped prove another myth false. After using their medical equipment and conducting experiments of their own, they say wearing a mask does not deprive you of oxygen, nor does the mask trap the carbon dioxide you exhale.

“The mask is there for your protection and, more importantly, for the protection of those around you,” said Nick Troitino of the Blacksburg Volunteer Rescue Squad, “but you don’t have any increased risk of any bad side effects or bad symptoms with long mask usage.”

While they may be uncomfortable, emergency responders are confident that wearing a mask does not hinder one’s breathing – so much so, that they put masks on their emergency patents to protect them while in the ambulance and entering the hospital.

As rumors surrounding mask usage have become political and an excuse not to wear them, Hungerford says you can make your beliefs known while still wearing a mask.

“You could make it about a political statement by putting your politics on your mask,” Hungerford stated, “and then people know exactly what you believe, but you don’t have to sacrifice your own safety or their safety.”

Hungerford also says people need to come together to make mask-wearing a selfless community initiative.

“What we really want is people in the community to make a choice that we’re all going to protect each other,” Hungerford says.

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