We've heard it since the start of the pandemic: face masks (and cloth ones especially) are imperfect. Their filtration is imperfect, the protection they offer is imperfect. But sometimes, imperfect is the best we've got, and it's very necessary.
Study after study has shown that face masks are one of our best tools to limit the spread of disease, and even DIY or cloth masks are important. But sometimes, an image is better at conveying the message. With this in mind, a team spearheaded by Dr. Niall Smith, Head of Research at Cork Institute of Technology used imaging techniques developed for astrophysics to see how effective various textiles are at stopping the flow of droplets.
The project is useful for assessing the efficiency of different types of textiles and informing policymaking, but it can also serve a different purpose: snapping images such as the one above that convey a powerful message. The image was awarded the Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) Image of the Year award.
It's simple and direct: a strong way to underscore why mask-wearing is such a key strategy for suppressing the novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2.
“It is critically important that we wear masks wherever social distancing is challenging, but not all masks perform equally well at suppressing droplets. Our research will enable us to directly measure the number of droplets of different sizes that are exhaled through masks composed of different materials, measurements which have not been made in this way before. "
Niall and colleagues will continue their research to see what types of textiles work best. Wearing masks is the main point, but seeing which work best (and what 'best' means in the context) is also important.
Cloth masks are also important as they can be reused, are more sustainable, and don't put additional pressure on medical system medical supplies.
Meanwhile, as the number of coronavirus cases is rising in much of the world, it's as important as ever to wear a face mask. If you're still not convinced, just look at the image above.