Damp Masks Can Limit COVID-19 Transmission Via Speech Droplets?

Saying something as little as "stay healthy" creates thousands of droplets that naked eyes can't see, says report.

Updated
Coronavirus
2 min read
Women are making masks amid coronavirus outbreak.
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Over the last few weeks, there has been a debate about whether everyone should wear masks to contain coronavirus spread. Countries such as India and the US, who had initially said every person need not wear a mask, backtracked and advised people to wear homemade masks.

A latest study published on MedRxiv says droplet emission while speaking could be a significant factor driving coronavirus transmission and damp homemade masks can reduce this droplet excretion.

Researchers at the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) who prepared this report used laser light-scattering to detect the number of droplets emitted while talking.

Saying something as little as "stay healthy" generates thousands of droplets that naked eyes can't possibly see, they confirm.

The study further says,

"Droplets emitted while speaking are much smaller than those emitted when coughing or sneezing. Nonetheless, they are sufficiently large to carry a variety of respiratory pathogens including the measles virus, influenza virus, and mycobacterium tuberculosis. Moreover, multiple studies have shown that speaking actually produces significantly more droplets than coughing."

This report is in its preliminary stage and has not been peer-reviewed or published yet. It, however, says that the finding of researchers' can have vital implications for pandemic mitigation efforts.

While suggesting the use of cloth mouth cover, the report say,

"If speaking and oral fluid viral load proves to be a major mechanism of SARS-CoV-2 transmission, wearing any kind of cloth mouth cover in public by every person, as well as strict adherence to social distancing and handwashing, could significantly decrease the transmission rate and thereby contain the pandemic until a vaccine becomes available.

Many in the past have argued that wearing a mask in public doesn't protect the wearer from infection as the virus can enter the body through the eyes. The study says a damp homemade cloth mask can be helpful.

Scientists say,

"A damp homemade cloth face mask dramatically reduced droplet excretion, with none of the spoken words causing a droplet rise above the background."

Indian Health Ministry issued a fresh advisory asking healthy individuals to wear home made masks or coverings while out in public. They gave detailed instructions on how these can be made. You can read about it here.

They also clarified that the instructions are not for surgical masks and N95 masks that are needed for the frontline health workers and those interacting closely with COVID-19 patients.

In some hotspots, wearing masks while out in public has been made mandatory.

Last week, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released new guidelines recommending people to use cloth face coverings.

While highlighting how coronavirus can spread between people interacting in close proximity even if they are not exhibiting symptoms, the CDC’s advisory said,

“CDC recommends wearing cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain (e.g., grocery stores and pharmacies) especially in areas of significant community-based transmission.”

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