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No medical-grade face mask? Try a vacuum cleaner filter

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(NEW YORK) — It’s settled science that wearing a face mask dramatically decreases the likelihood of both contracting and transmitting COVID-19, especially if you wear a medical-grade surgical, N95 or N99 mask. 

But what if you have neither?  A new study finds you can make whatever mask you have more effective by adding a vacuum cleaner bag to it.

The Journal of Hospital Infection reports researchers at Tucson’s University of Arizona tried using various materials as face masks, and then measured the effectiveness of each.  While surgical masks, N95 and N99 face masks predictably came out on top, study author Amanda Wilson said other materials fared surprisingly well.  Those materials include tea towels, cotton-blend fabrics and even pillow cases, especially anti-microbial ones.

But all of those materials did better when paired with a good old-fashioned paper vacuum cleaner bag.  When added to a cotton mask, they lowered the risk of COVID-19 infection by an impressive 83% during 30 seconds of exposure — think passing through or by an area of exposure risk — and by 58% if you’re exposed for 20 minutes.

And like other studies, the University of Arizona study found scarves, bandanas and neck gaiters, while perhaps better than nothing, provide very little useful protection against viral transmission.  In fact, they can break respiratory droplets into smaller particles, making them easier to penetrate the cloth barrier and be inhaled.

Most importantly, says Wilson: “[A] mask can’t reduce your risk to zero. Don’t go to a bar for four hours and think you’re risk free because you’re wearing a mask. Stay home as much as possible, wash your hands often, wear a mask when you’re out and don’t touch your face.”

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