Inward and outward effectiveness of cloth masks, a surgical mask, and a face shield


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Virginia Tech


We evaluated the effectiveness of 11 face coverings for material filtration efficiency, inward protection efficiency on a manikin, and outward protection efficiency on a manikin. At the most penetrating particle size, the vacuum bag, microfiber cloth, and surgical mask had material filtration efficiencies >50%, while the other materials had much lower filtration efficiencies. However, these efficiencies increased rapidly with particle size, and many materials had efficiencies >50% at 2 μm and >75% at 5 μm. The vacuum bag performed best, with efficiencies of 54-96% for all three metrics, depending on particle size. The thin acrylic and face shield performed worst. Inward protection efficiency and outward protection efficiency were similar for many masks; the two efficiencies diverged for stiffer materials and those worn more loosely (e.g., bandana) or more tightly (e.g., wrapped around the head) compared to a standard earloop mask. Discrepancies between material filtration efficiency and inward/outward protection efficiency indicated that the fit of the mask was important. We calculated that the particle size most likely to deposit in the respiratory tract when wearing a mask is ∼2 μm. Based on these findings, we recommend a three-layer mask consisting of outer layers of a flexible, tightly woven fabric and an inner layer consisting of a material designed to filter out particles. This combination should produce an overall efficiency of >70% at the most penetrating particle size and >90% for particles 1 μm and larger if the mask fits well.



masks, aerosol, transmission, COVID-19, SARS-CoV-2, face coverings