ABC57 Investigates: Face coverings have become the new normal, but how well do they work?
BERRIEN SPRINGS, Mich. --- It has been nearly half a year since Michiana received its first case of coronavirus and it seems like each week we are introduced to a new set of rules to keep everyone safe—from handwashing to social distancing and now mask wearing.
But how effective are these masks? ABC57’s Brenda Koopsen visited the lab to investigate by putting two different types of masks to the test up against no mask at all.
“Our goal is just to demonstrate the effectiveness of masks,” Medical Technologist and Assistant Professor, Melissa Poua said.
Poua is with the Medical Laboratory Sciences Department at Andrews University in Berrien Springs with more than 10 years of lab experience under her belt.
“And so we’re just going to do a really simple experiment, just to see how droplets travel with and without a mask because we know that COVID-19 is a droplet-borne virus,” Poua said.
For the first experiment, we tested a cloth mask versus a paper mask to see just how much bacteria could spread onto a petri dish through the mask if people were just having a normal conversation with another person.
The same process was repeated, but without wearing a mask.
All petri dishes were coated with agar, making it an enriched plate that reveals how the bacteria can grow.
For the second experiment, we tested the same cloth mask versus a paper mask up against coughing to see how the aerosol particles spread. The same process was repeated, but without wearing a mask.
All petri dishes were then placed into an incubator at 37 degrees Celsius, or body temperature, for over 48 hours to allow the bacteria to grow.
Results showed that the cloth mask from talking had no bacteria colonies, while the paper mask had a few bacteria colonies. The petri dish from no mask had several bacteria colonies.
From the second experiment, results showed that neither the cloth or paper masks had grown any bacteria colonies. The petri dish from no mask had the most bacteria colonies, covering the dish.
Studies show more droplets are released from coughing or sneezing than when people are just talking, according to Poua.
“I also see a lot of people, like when I’m shopping or whatever, have their noses out and that’s something that you don’t want to have either because we COVID test out of the nose,” Poua said “We nasal pharynx COVID test and the reason for that is the place where the virus mainly replicates, so that’s actually the most COVID-rich part of your body is the nose. So having your nose out is actually not very much protection for yourself or others.”
Poua said if everyone is masked up, that alone makes the general public significantly safer, emphasizing that wearing a mask should be a decision based in science to keep everyone safe.
“The most effective use of masks is if it’s used by all parties, you know,” Poua said. “So if you have where half the people are wearing it and half of the people are not, it’s just not nearly as effective in preventing disease.”
For the full experiment, see the video above.