See You Later, Neck Gaiter? Are They Effective Against COVID-19?

See You Later, Neck Gaiter? Are They Effective Against COVID-19?

When it comes to facial coverings, there are two things that you have to worry about: effectiveness against COVID-19 and comfort. You don’t want to constantly adjust your mask because you aren’t supposed to touch your face frequently. Additionally, you don’t want to cover your face with something that offers little to no protection. While neck gaiters may be comfortable, researchers say that they may not be effective against COVID-19. 

What Are Neck Gaiters?

Popular amongst athletes or the average neighborhood jogger, the neck gaiter is a thin, stretchable mask alternative that you wear around your neck. The reason that exercisers enjoy them is because they find it easier to breathe with them on during their workouts, especially when compared to other masks or facial coverings. This is not surprising because they are thin and made from a polyester/spandex blend. 

Yes, breathing while wearing a neck gaiter may be easier, but a new study at Duke University in North Carolina found that it doesn’t offer protection against COVID-19. Researchers examined the polyester and spandex gaiters and found that respiratory droplets easily passed through the material. This study did not examine neck gaiters made from different materials. The ones in question are those made from a polyester and spandex blend. 

Are Neck Gaiters Effective?

When compared to several different face masks, the neck gaiter allowed more respiratory droplets to pass through. The reason that people like neck gaiters is because of their breathability, but that is also because they are thin. Because you can breathe more easily while wearing a neck gaiter, experts say that this increases your risk of inhaling infected respiratory droplets. If many particles can enter through the neck gaiter, then you have a greater risk of contracting the virus. The study also found that more respiratory droplets were visible when people spoke with neck gaiters on, posing a greater risk for community transmission. That being said, there are variations of neck gaiters, and researchers determined that other materials and fits may offer better protection. Dr. Martin Fischer, one of the authors of the study, said that the study was not a comprehensive mask test; rather, it was a preliminary study that included the spandex/polyester neck gaiter. 

Virginia Tech tested two different types of neck gaiters in response to the Duke University study. One neck gaiter was single layer polyester and the other one was two layers, one being spandex and the other being polyester. While both neck gaiters offered minimal protection, the researchers concluded that the two-layer mask offered more protection. 

If You Buy A Neck Gaiter, What Should You Look For?

Most health experts advise that you steer clear of polyester/spandex neck gaiters, simply because the material is too thin. There are cotton neck gaiters that have three layers of fabric, or multiple weaves (a higher thread count). Hold the neck gaiter up to the light. If you see light passing through the fabric, don’t buy it. In addition to choosing the right material, you have to choose a neck gaiter that fits your face well. You want it to fit snug around the nose and chin because the looser the fit, the more at risk you are of contracting the virus.

As always, staying safe is about more than a mask. We need to regularly wash our hands, practice social distancing, and keep gatherings to under ten people. A new study found that infected respiratory droplets can travel anywhere from 7-16 feet, which exceeds the recommended six-foot distance recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The main thing is to be cautious and wear facial coverings in populated areas, even if you are outside. Stay safe, everyone!