‘Any mask helps:’ Local chemistry professor tests how effective masks are against the spread of COVID-19

Local Coronavirus Coverage

ELIZABETHTON, Tenn. (WJHL) – One chemistry professor saw different kinds of experiments surface on social media and decided to examine how effective different kinds of masks are against the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Milligan University Assistant Professor of Chemistry Kristen Mudrack told News Channel 11’s Bianca Marais that she had seen plenty of studies and experiments on mask effectiveness, but she and her research assistant Madison Blanton, wanted to focus more on the different types of masks.

“I did the experiment, I said all the tongue twisters, with a hospital mask, a cloth mask that I had made and an N95, which was not fitted to my face – so there were some spaces that the air could get out – and what my research assistant and I found was that any mask helps,” Mudrack explained.

“With no mask, there’s a whole bunch of droplets on the plate, with a cloth mask or a hospital mask or an N95, there’s maybe one or two droplets on the plate. Now, the thing to understand about this, is that those are bacterial droplets, we do know that COVID spreads through aerosol droplets, okay, so when you talk, even though you don’t realize it, you are spraying things out of your mouth and nose. The virus travels through those particles. What’s on those plates is bacterial growth, not viral growth, but the priciple still stands. Viruses are going to travel further because they’re smaller but any aerosolized particle is going to get stopped by a mask, and that’s essentially what I found: that any mask helps more than no mask,” she explained.

This is how Mudrack said the experiment was conducted:

“I held it in front of my face, about a foot and a half, said a bunch of tongue twisters, covered the plate and then set it in the incubator for about a week. The reason I let it go for a week instead of just a day, was to magnify the growth on the plates. After a day, I checked them and you couldn’t see a whole lot, you could tell that there was something, but I knew that it would be better to see after about a week what was actually there,” she said.

Mudrack also included a control Petri dish.

“So that I knew that if something grew on that plate, there was something in the air that was settling onto the plate,” she said. “What actually happened, was on the control plate, nothing grew, which tells me that it’s not something that’s in the air that’s getting it here to the plate, it’s when I’m actually talking, the aerosolized droplets are landing on the plate and growing.”

Mudrack told News Channel 11’s Bianca Marais that she was most surprised by the N95 mask.

“The N95 has a really big spot on the plate and that is likely because the mask was not fitted to my face. The other reason N95s aren’t as good as we initially thought is because some of them have that valve. That valve only filters what goes in, but not what comes out and so you’re still actually breathing out aerosolized particles, that would end up on a Petri dish like that,” she explained.

She explained that scientists, over the last six months, have proven that COVID-19 spreads through droplets that have to somehow be projected. This happens when we talk or cough or sneeze, Mudrack explained.

“What we’re trying to accomplish with social distancing is staying far enough apart, that those droplets kind of dissipate before they get to the person, that’s also what a mask does,” she explained. “So, the mask is going to stop the droplets before they ever get into the air.”

To her, someone who is immuno-compromised, the issue is personal. She asks that people wear a mask to help limit the spread of the coronavirus.

“The science is there. It has been proven over and over how COVID is spread and you’re seeing science move at such a fast pace right now, that we’ve never seen before and probably never will see again in our lifetime. Yes, we keep getting emerging information, that’s how science works, and if it turns out that masks really don’t help, what’s the harm in wearing one? Even if they don’t help, it’s just a small thing that doesn’t hurt. Now, the science is there that it does help and it does reduce the spread of COVID, and that’s why we are being asked to wear them in public,” she said.

Continuing coverage of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.

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