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The Shocking New Way Coronavirus Can Break Through Your Face Mask

A new study has found that face masks don’t work as well if you do this.
A woman wearing a face mask in the city coughing.

You should be wearing a protective face covering whenever you are around other people in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19. However, according to new research, you may still be compromising not only your health, but the health of others, if you aren't standing six feet apart.

A new study courtesy of Talib Dbouk and Dimitris Drikakis, from the University of Nicosia in Cyprus and published in Physics of Fluids, claims that the virus can still spread when a mask-wearing person is coughing excessively, traveling up to 18 feet in five seconds via droplets of saliva. 

Droplets Can Escape

The researchers used a computer model to map out potential flow patterns of such respiratory droplets in an attempt to learn more about the protection level of facial masks. They found that when an individual repeatedly coughed, they were more likely to infect others, as more droplets could make their way through the masks.

With a mask on, droplets may be able to travel up to one meter during a mild coughing fit. Without a mask, they have the ability to travel twice as far. Researchers pointed out that their calculations revealed an effect on the droplet size due to turbulent flow encountering the mask, escaping, and entering the environment. Droplets can also escape out the sides of the mask, especially during excessive coughing fits. 

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"The droplet sizes change and fluctuate continuously during cough cycles as a result of several interactions with the mask and face," Drikakis explained in a press release accompanying the study. And while masks can decrease the droplet accumulation during coughing fits, Dbouk added, "it remains unclear whether large droplets or small ones are more infectious."

To Make Sure Your Mask Works Effectively, Do This

Bottom line: while masks can reduce the risk of infection, it is crucial to continue social distancing. "The use of a mask will not provide complete protection," Drikakis said. "Therefore, social distancing remains essential."

Also, make sure your mask fits properly in order to maximize efficiency. "The mask to face fitting is important," the study authors write in the study. "Even in the case of a tight fitting scenario, if there exist some small openings, this can lead to additional leakage of droplets around the mask, which cannot be ignored. It contributes to an additional reduction in the mask efficiency with respect to efficiency reduction induced by the cyclic behavior of the coughing incident."

So: stay six feet away from others, wear a face mask, cough far away from others and follow the CDC guidelines for staying safe. And to get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don't miss these Things You Should Never Do During the Coronavirus Pandemic.

Eat This, Not That! is constantly monitoring the latest food news as it relates to COVID-19 in order to keep you healthy, safe, and informed (and answer your most urgent questions). Here are the precautions you should be taking at the grocery store, the foods you should have on hand, the meal delivery services and restaurant chains offering takeout you need to know about, and ways you can help support those in need. We will continue to update these as new information develops. Click here for all of our COVID-19 coverage, and sign up for our newsletter to stay up-to-date.

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