Safety Leaders Respond to Duke University Project on Face Mask Efficacy

Leaders at safety work gear manufacturer Ergodyne issued a statement urging caution when it comes to headlines regarding studies on the efficacy of face coverings in limiting the spread of COVID-19.

In the rapidly unfolding world of COVID-19 response, numerous studies comparing the effectiveness of various mask materials in stopping the spread of the virus have been conducted and reported on. Almost all these studies come to one general conclusion: masks and cloth face coverings vary widely in how they protect people from infectious droplets.

One recent shared study––a small-scale, non-clinical student demonstration from Duke University––suggested that a popular covering they described as a “neck fleece” might be counterproductive, claiming it actually increased spread of the virus by dispersing larger droplets into a multitude of smaller particles that remain suspended in air for a longer period of time.

“Those claims might be true for the specific material they tested, but should not be extrapolated to all materials and general style of covering,” said Ergodyne President Tom Votel. “It’s not only misleading if not carefully reported on, it’s dangerous. What we don’t want to happen as a result is for people to misinterpret those headlines and just take their masks off.”

The Duke University report itself points out that it is not a clinical trial and it did “not attempt a comprehensive survey of all possible mask designs or a systematic study of all cases.” There are many other types of facial coverings and materials not tested.

With so many variables in face coverings, Votel points to the need for the workforce and safety professionals to turn to trusted manufacturers for guidance and performance data derived from proper knowledge of materials, supported by third party testing based on well-vetted and accepted metrics.

“The bottom line right now is just about any covering over the nose and mouth will have some positive benefit,” said Chris Cota, Ergodyne product manager. “Just because a certain solution isn’t deemed 100% effective in this case doesn’t mean it’s not doing anything. What we, and trusted institutions like the CDC, are advocating for is risk reduction. No one takes cholesterol medicine because it’s going to prevent a heart attack 100% of the time, but you’re reducing your risk substantially. We think that’s a vital piece to remember. There is no single magic pill that can be prescribed––especially when we’re talking about the workforce.”

Cota points out that, for workers, breathability and comfort are a major consideration and there is a filtration/breathability trade off with any face covering––one that’s driven by application and working environment. “Not only are N95 masks not necessary for most, they are also incredibly scarce. On the job site, the best mask is one that gets worn.”

“This is a swiftly evolving situation and people of good standing and conscience are working just as quickly to provide testing and guidance so workers and safety professionals can match the right solution to the level of risk and exposure,” said Votel. “But the basic state of play today is this: keep your distance and cover your mug.”