A few months, as many of us had finally gotten used to wearing face masks and neck gaiters to stop the spread of COVID-19, Duke University released a study to show a new cost-effective way to test face covering efficacy. You've probably encountered some misconstrued version of the big takeaway from this study on social media by now.
Many news sources and content mills ran with this misinformation and condemned neck gaiters to be ineffective in protecting people from the coronavirus. In fact, some even said that neck gaiters were actually worse than not wearing any face protection at all! Does this sound strange and wrong to you? Well, that's because it is.
We delved into this topic before in a previous article. In case you missed it, you can check it out here. But there was a lot of material to cover regarding what went wrong with the study and how its inaccurate information was propagated. So we're back to cover three more reasons why those "ineffective" neck gaiter claims are nonsense.
1. Duke University Wanted to Show How to Test Masks, Not Which One Was Effective or Ineffective
The idea that neck gaiters are bad unfortunately spread like wildfire due to several major news publications propagating this misinformation. But the Duke University study never actually showed that neck gaiters are bad. Like we mentioned, it was actually meant to present a new way to tests different kinds of masks. Here's an explanation from Scientific American:
"The researchers set up a green laser beam in a dark room. A masked subject was then asked to speak so that the droplets from the speaker’s mouth showed up in the green beam. The whole process was video recorded on a cell phone, after which researchers calculated the number of droplets that showed up. The process was repeated 10 times for each mask (14 in total, one of which was a neck gaiter) and the setup cost less than $200. What was meant as a study on the pricing and efficacy of a test turned into, at least in some journalistic circles, a definitive nail-in-the-coffin for gaiters."
Keep in mind that this this study really boiled down to a few people, a hypothesis, a laser, and a cellphone. Out of the 14 masks they tested, only one was a neck gaiter. Perhaps worst of all? That neck gaiter was made of fleece! This could have been the reason why the researchers measured more droplets when the test subject spoke with the neck gaiter on.
The fleece likely sheared large particles into smaller ones and let them escape through the wide openings of the fabric. Or maybe, the test subject felt the need to speak more forcefully since a heavy fleece mask hung around their mouth. We're not really sure, and neither are any of the news sources that ran with this story because the test actually didn't focus on controlling these parameters since this wasn't its point.
While we're on the topic of fabric, our neck gaiters are made with moisture-wicking UPF 50 sun protective, anti-microbial treated polyester, and many of them come as 2-ply. If they don't, making them 2-ply is as easy as folding the fabric down onto itself.
2. Journalists Magnified Misinformation
Even though the Duke University Study was about a new testing procedure, not masks themselves, it turned into the latter option because of the way news proliferates online. There are two main reasons for why this occurred:
- Journalists need to be better at understanding science and the results of new studies.
- Scientists need to get better at communicating their conclusions.
The idea of ineffective neck gaiters became viral overnight, and it's a prime example of the powerful way that misinformation can spread. All it took was one misinterpretation. That misinterpretation then grew bigger and more distorted with each news cycle iteration. This fake news was an easy story to sell, even it if didn't quite make sense — which is actually very dangerous, especially during this pandemic.
Making people think that wearing any type of face covering is worse than not wearing one at all can carry deadly ramifications. The Duke University Study makes it clear that we must all be more careful and meticulous about what we read, write, and share on social media.
3. The Duke University Researchers Are Defending Neck Gaiters
Several reputable news sources such as The New York Times, The Washington Post, and USA Today have come to the defense of neck gaiters since the Duke University Study's release. Besides this, many leading researchers in aerosols have also chimed in to set the record straight. And one of them was actually a lead researcher in the Duke University Study:
“Our intent was for this technology to get out there so companies and organizations can test their own masks,” explained Dr. Martin Fischer, a Duke University Chemistry associate research professor and co-author of the now infamous study. “Our intent was not to say this mask doesn’t work or never use neck gaiters. This was not the main part of the paper... It was not a systematic study of masks... Seeing the media somewhat misquote and misinterpret the data was a big downer.”
Fischer and his colleagues realized they needed to do everything they could to correct the public's perception of neck gaiters. That's why they even held a press conference to clarify that the study wasn't about what masks work best.
A Catchy Headline Doesn't Mean It's True
To sum things up, if you prefer wearing a neck gaiter, then do so. If it's between this option and no mask, definitely wear a neck gaiter. Remember, we're all in this together. Any form of face mask protection only helps to slow the spread of COVID-19. Don't base what you wear on one study that didn't even really focus on testing masks in the first place.
We hope this article helped clarify some things about neck gaiters. Keep your face covered, maintain social distancing, wash your hands frequently, and don't always believe a catchy headline when you see one.
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