Don't write off neck gaiters yet, researchers say

Neck gaiters are still a viable option to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 and are likely better than wearing no mask at all, researchers and health experts told The New York Times.

Backlash against neck gaiters, a thin tube of fabric worn around the neck, erupted last week when researchers published a study detailing a new, inexpensive method of testing the effectiveness of face masks. Researchers found that people wearing neck gaiters and bandanas emitted a higher droplet count when speaking than control tests involving no masks. However, researchers have since said their findings have been misconstrued.

"Our intent was not to say this mask doesn't work, or never use neck gaiters,” study author Martin Fischer, PhD, a chemist and physicist at Durham, N.C.-based Duke University, told the TImes. "Our intent was for this technology to get out there so companies and organizations can test their own masks. A mask doesn't have to be perfect for it to work."

After the study came out, Linsey Marr, PhD, an aerosol scientist at Blacksburg-based Virginia Tech and leading expert in airborne disease transmission, conducted her own research on neck gaiters with Jin Pan, a graduate student studying biological particles. 

The pair found that neck gaiters prevented 100 percent of large 20-micron droplets and at least 50 percent of 1-micron aerosols. Some homemade cloth masks performed worse than gaiters. The Virginia Tech researchers concluded that masks or coverings that have two layers of fabric and fit snugly offer the most protection. 

"I've been recommending neck gaiters, and my kids wear neck gaiters," Dr. Marr told the Times. "There's nothing inherent about a neck gaiter that should make it any worse than a cloth mask. It comes down to the fabric and how well it fits."

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