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Researchers Offer Evidence That Cloth Masks Can Prevent Spread of COVID-19

A newstudy from respiratory researchers finds cloth masks are beneficial in preventing the spread of COVID-19.

“This is based on existing research — just to share with everybody that there is a potential scientific basis for using [cloth masks],” said the chairman of Cleveland Clinic’s Respiratory Institute Dr. Raed Dweik, who contributed to the study. 

Dweik said existing respiratory research shows that cloth masks are able to capture aerosols expelled when we cough, sneeze or simply exhale. These aerosols are smaller than viruses, which suggests the masks can help keep COVID-19 from spreading in public places, he said.

“The one thing that we really have not tested, that nobody has tested, is how much of the aerosols in exhaled breath are captured in these masks,” he said. “We know they capture some, but they may not capture everything.” 

That’s because homemade masks, such as scarves or bandanas, are not form-fitting like personal protective equipment, he said.

He added that wearing a mask is not a replacement for other measures that should be taken to prevent the spread of the virus, such as staying six feet apart from others. “In a way, it’s another extension of social distancing,” he said.

He said wearing masks has additional benefits, such as giving the individual a heightened sense of caution while wearing one. The masks can also protect an individual from touching his or her face.

“I think the advantage of [the cloth masks] is that they’re really minimum cost, and you aren’t taking anything away from health care workers,” he said.

He said he’s not sure why the recommendation to wear cloth masks in public wasn’t issued sooner.

“It’s a new virus. You are trying to figure out how it’s spread, how are you protected from it, and I think it’s a matter of figuring things out,” Dweik said. “If you look at the CDC recommendations, they have changed week to week, day to day sometimes, based on available new evidence.” He said he recommends wearing a cloth mask that can be washed and re-used.

The paper was published in the April edition of the peer-reviewed Journal of Breath Research.

Copyright 2021 90.3 WCPN ideastream. To see more, visit 90.3 WCPN ideastream.

Anna joined ideastream in 2019, where she reports on health news for WCPN and WVIZ in Cleveland. She has also served as an associate producer for NewsDepth. Before that, Anna was a 2019 Carnegie-Knight News21 fellow at Arizona State University's Walter Cronkite School of Journalism.