clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Masks might not be enough to stop COVID-19 spread, new study says. You have to do this, too

A new study suggests that masks alone might not be enough to stop the novel coronavirus from spreading.

Pedestrians wear masks as they walk in downtown Salt Lake City on Monday, Nov. 23, 2020.
Pedestrians wear masks as they walk in downtown Salt Lake City on Monday, Nov. 23, 2020.
Steve Griffin, Deseret News

A new study from the American Institute of Physics has found that masks might not be enough to stop the spread of COVID-19 without social distancing.

What’s happening?

Researchers — in a study published in the Physics of Fluids, by AIP Publishing — recently tested how five different types of masks impacted the spread of droplets carrying the coronavirus when there was a cough or sneeze.

  • Good news: The study found that every material tested reduced the number of droplets spread.
  • Bad news: Droplets that could cause the illness still spread between people who were less than 6 feet away from each other.

“A mask definitely helps, but if the people are very close to each other, there is still a chance of spreading or contracting the virus,” said Krishna Kota, an associate professor at New Mexico State University and one of the article’s authors. “It’s not just masks that will help. It’s both the masks and distancing.”

The numbers:

  • The study found cloth masks didn’t stop 3.6% of droplets. But the N-95 stopped 100% of droplets.
  • At less than 6 feet of distance, though, those small percentages can still get someone sick.


New Mexico State University researchers created a machine that used an air generator to mimic human coughs. The generator sent out tiny particles — like airborne droplets — and assessed how they traveled through masks, including an N95, a regular cloth mask and more, according to a press release.

Key quote:

  • “Without a face mask, it is almost certain that many foreign droplets will transfer to the susceptible person,” Kota said. “Wearing a mask will offer substantial, but not complete, protection to a susceptible person by decreasing the number of foreign airborne sneeze and cough droplets that would otherwise enter the person without the mask. Consideration must be given to minimize or avoid close face-to-face or frontal human interactions, if possible.”

Correction: The article originally said the study found cloth masks stops 3.6% of droplets. The study actually said it doesn’t stop 3.6%.