Neck gaiter coronavirus study questioned by experts over manufacturer’s involvement

A recent press release on neck gaiters was bullish on their safety, but some with experience testing face mask effectiveness are questioning those findings.

The gaiter face mask alternative caught people’s attention early in the pandemic, but even today, there remains no conclusive answer as to whether they help stop the spread of novel coronavirus.

While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) still advises against the use of neck gaiters, the agency notes that their efficacy is unknown and evaluation is ongoing. 

The University of Georgia issued a news release on a non-peer-reviewed study earlier this month finding neck gaiters effective in reducing droplet spread, however, some noted the research was commissioned by a manufacturer in the industry called MISSION.

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While many studies are reported on ahead of rigorous peer review, the UGA study done alongside a manufacturer in the industry emphasizes the importance of peer review, experts say.

Fox News requested comment from UGA staff leading the study, including Suraj Sharma, professor in the College of Family and Consumer Sciences.

“It was clear from the results that whether a face cover loops behind your ears like a mask, or goes around your head like a gaiter, the reduction in respiratory droplets is driven by the material and the number of layers used, rather than the form factor of a mask or gaiter,” Sharma wrote. “Moreover, this study was based on speaking mode. We didn’t simulate someone coughing harder. More research needs to be undertaken to simulate various situations, including fit.”

A team of researchers at the University of Georgia conducts a study on neck gaiters and efficacy in reducing the spread of respiratory droplets. Pictured center is Suraj Sharma, lead study author and professor in the College of Family and Consumer Sciences. (Photo courtesy of University of Georgia)

According to the university release, single-layer gaiters lent a 77% average reduction in droplets compared to no face covering at all, with efficacy reportedly building as layers were added.

“Per CDC guidelines, using face covers to prevent the spread of COVID-19 is of the utmost importance,” Sharma wrote in their release. “However, recent media reports have questioned the effectiveness of gaiters as face covers. In sum, the level of protection provided by a face covering appears to be substantially driven by the number and quality of layers of material and not whether it’s in the form of a gaiter or a mask.”­­­­­

UGA researchers said the study protocol “mirrored” that of a Duke University proof-of-principle study.

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However, a co-author of the Duke study, Warren S. Warren, told Fox News their research “was never intended to be a definitive characterization of face masks” due to the small number of masks involved in the study. Warren is a James B. Duke professor of physics, chemistry, radiology and biomedical engineering, and also director at the Center for Molecular and Biomolecular Imaging at Duke University.

Another Duke University researcher weighed in on the UGA study.

“We are not saying that their results are wrong, but we can’t say they are right either. Given they provided no information other than the news release we can’t really evaluate their results at all,” Dr. Martin Fischer, study co-author and associate research professor in the chemistry department at Duke University, wrote to Fox News in an email. “What we have an issue with is the fact that they release information that the science community has not been able to view, much less verify. The fact that the study received funding by a company that has an obvious interest in seeing positive results makes it even more important that the results are vetted through the established scientific process of peer review before released publically to news outlets.”

Emma Fischer, study co-author and student at Duke University, dons a neck gaiter. Study co-author Warren S. Warren says this neck gaiter is slightly stretchy and opaque when worn, but single layer and thin enough to see a light through it. 

Emma Fischer, study co-author and student at Duke University, dons a neck gaiter. Study co-author Warren S. Warren says this neck gaiter is slightly stretchy and opaque when worn, but single layer and thin enough to see a light through it. 
(Martin Fischer, Duke University)

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Fischer said his team at Duke agrees that “filtration performance of a thin textile could improve when doubled up,” but this could come at a cost of increased air resistance, or the neck gaiter could become too restrictive and uncomfortable.

Warren also warned about the UGA research. 

“…If I take that (the data) at face value, I can tell you that the results they claim are not consistent with what medical professionals believe…; not consistent with many measurements we did, including some since publication of the paper; and not consistent with the reports we get from other people doing these experiments,” he said. 

“People who have real data that they want to get out for analysis do not present it like this,” Warren said. “As a minimum, they would deposit a preprint of the paper on something like BioRxiv.”  

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