New research out of Duke University suggests that wearing a neck gaiter, neck warmer or buff as a mask might be worse than wearing no face covering at all.
A recently published paper looked at 14 different masks, ranging from surgical masks to bandanas and fleece neck gaiters, all commonly used by people trying to stop the spread of disease. While some masks are quite effective, they found that people wearing neck gaiters, in particular, aren’t actually protecting themselves or anyone else.
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Duke University professor Warren S. Warren told the Washington Post, “These neck gaiters are extremely common in a lot of places because they’re very convenient to wear. But the exact reason why they’re so convenient, which is that they don’t restrict air, is the reason why they’re not doing much of a job helping people.”
The study found that fleece neck gaiters actually produced more droplet transmission than no mask at all. Researchers claim this is due to the droplet size. “The neck fleece seemed to disperse the largest droplets into a multitude of smaller droplets, which explains the apparent increase in droplet count relative to no mask. Considering that smaller particles are airborne longer than large droplets (larger droplets sink faster), the use of such a mask might be counterproductive.”
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Buff had to release a statement
Buff is one of the most popular neck gaiter companies in the business, but numerous other brands produce a similar item. While this seems like a perfectly acceptable face covering, it’s meant to keep you warm, not for COVID-19 protection. Buff said in a statement, “While our multifunctional headwear products cover the entire front of the face (nose, mouth, chin, and neck), they are not scientifically proven by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) to prevent you from: (1) contracting a virus/disease/illness or (2) passing a virus/disease/illness to someone else.”
Buff does produce a filter mask, distinct from its standard neck gaiter, specifically for use as protection against the transmission of COVID-19. Numerous cycling apparel brands are also manufacturing masks, for everyday use as well as specifically for use on the bike.
Despite Buff’s statement, several resorts offering lift-accessed mountain biking currently accept a Buff, bandana or neck warmer as an acceptable face covering, including Whistler Bike Park.
Should cyclists be wearing masks?
In Canada, by-laws are currently only enforcing mask use indoors. If you’re getting active outside, especially if you’re able to maintain two metres of space, Vox reports that you’re extremely unlikely to get sick from a fellow cyclist, runner, or walker so wearing a face mask while cycling is usually not necessary. Maintain your space while outdoors and you should be safe, even without a mask.
For mountain bikers, most, if not all bike parks currently require riders wear some kind of mask or face covering while in line for chairlifts and while riding the lift. As mentioned above, Buff’s are currently meet most resorts requirements for face coverings. This may change following Duke’s study. Regardless of what the resort rules are, using a Buff might not be protecting you or your fellow riders while waiting in the lift line like you think it is.
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A version of this story first appeared at Candian Running Magazine.