As the debate about mask mandates continues in some states, a new study reportedly shows social distancing is just as important to reduce the spread of COVID-19. The study looked at the effectiveness of face coverings when someone coughs repeatedly, coughing is one of the symptoms of COVID-19.
The study was published in a June issue of “Physics of Fluid”, by AIP Publishing, and was conducted by Talib Dbouk and Dimitris Drikakis from the University of Nicosia in Cyprus.
The researchers used computer modeling to show the range of saliva droplets when people cough. Previous work from this group showed saliva can travel about 18 feet when a person coughs and is not wearing a mask or covering their mouth.
This new study built on that research to add in the variables of face coverings and repeated coughing. They used information available about filters used in surgical masks.
“The results are alarming. Even when a mask is worn, some droplets can travel a considerable distance, up to 1 meter (roughly 3 feet), during periods of mild coughing. Without a mask, droplets travel twice as far, however, so wearing a mask will help. A mask also decreases the number of droplets that leak out the side of the mask but fails to eliminate it entirely.”
The computer models found that repeated coughing decreased the efficacy of the face covering, allowing more droplets to eventually get through the mask or around the sides. Those droplets could potentially travel more than 3 feet away from the person. However, the study still found that wearing a mask reduced the spread of droplets, the the amount of droplets expelled into the air.
"The use of a mask will not provide complete protection," Drikakis said. "Therefore, social distancing remains essential." The study also recommended more complete personal protective equipment for those in health care and essential positions, including face shields, gowns and gloves.