Need proof that masks protect against COVID-19? Study finds speech droplets can stay airborne for minutes

A woman walks without a protective mask during the coronavirus pandemic on May 16 in New York City. Photo: Cindy Ord/Getty Images

(Alice G. Walton/ Forbes) – There was some back-and-forth about whether masks were needed early on in the pandemic, but now the consensus among public health office is that it’s pretty critical that we all wear masks in public—not so much to protect yourself, but to protect others, in the event that you’re an asymptomatic or presymptomatic carrier. This way, if everyone wears a mask, we’re all protecting one another. This is not only a smart epidemiological message, but a rather lovely social one.

Though most people are abiding pretty well, not all are; it’s pretty obvious if you walk down a city street that some people just don’t feel the need.

A new study, however, shows how long speech-generated droplets can linger in the air: not cough- or sneeze-generated droplets, but plain old conversation level emissions. If you don’t want to read to the end, the answer is that they can stay airborne for anywhere between eight and 14 minutes.

The research was carried out by a team from the NIH and University of Pennsylvania, and published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. (…)

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