(TMU) – In the strange “new normal” of the coronavirus era, protective face coverings have become a new staple of our daily wardrobe, as essential as underwear and crucial in helping to slow the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic – especially as economies increasingly reopen.
Because of the heightened demand for masks, online marketplaces and retailers are offering myriad options including cotton and neoprene masks, disposable or reusable options, and masks with valves and filters.
And while it has been months since public health bodies issued guidance urging U.S. residents to always wear a cloth face covering in public, it’s become clear that not all masks are created equal – in fact, some masks are useless or worse when it comes to preventing person-to-person transmission of COVID-19.
According to a new study from scientists at Duke University’s School of Medicine comparing 14 types of masks, facial coverings like gaiters, bandanas and knitted masks are among the worst face coverings for preventing the spread of the virus.
Meanwhile, the gold standard for preventing the transmission of respiratory droplets during normal speech remains fitted N95 respirator masks used by health care professionals.
Other good options to help reduce the risk of saliva-related transmission are three-layer surgical masks and cotton masks, either of the homemade sort or those sold by retailers, the Duke physics department found.
For the study, researchers used a simple setup utilizing a laser beam and a cell phone camera that gauged the efficiency of masks by analyzing the spread of respiratory droplets during regular speech. A computer algorithm then counts the droplets in the video recording.
“We use a black box, a laser, and a camera,” study co-author Martin Fischer told CNN. “The laser beam is expanded vertically to form a thin sheet of light, which we shine through slits on the left and right of the box.”
While bandanas might look neat and allow you to flex your gangsta cosplay skills, they are nearly useless in terms of offering protection – and the same goes for that nice knitted mask your grandma made for you.
In the case of neck fleeces or gaiter scarves, which are usually worn by runners and bikers – as well as your favorite Major League Baseball players – not only are these totally ineffective but they actually might boost the spread of respiratory droplets, making gaiters worse than going without a mask entirely, the researchers warned.
This was because the material in fleeces or gaiter masks break larger droplets down into smaller ones. Rather than the droplets falling to the ground, as they would without a mask, the smaller particles of spittle float through the air easier, the scientists said.
“We were extremely surprised to find that the number of particles measured with the fleece actually exceeded the number of particles measured without wearing any mask,” Fischer noted.
“We want to emphasize that we really encourage people to wear masks, but we want them to wear masks that actually work.”
While some have recommended gauging the efficacy of masks through methods such as the “candle test” or the “lighter test,” the simple setup used by Duke is a low-cost, effective testing method.
However, the researchers are not recommending that people unfamiliar with lasers set these tests up at home due to the danger of permanent eye damage. Instead, they hope that companies, museums, and community centers can use the test to show people which masks work best.
“This is a very powerful visual tool to raise awareness that very simple masks, like these homemade cotton masks, do really well to stop the majority of these respiratory droplets,” Fischer said.
The researchers were careful to note, however, that results vary and their test was not a definitive test of the masks themselves.
“Again, we want to note that the mask tests performed here (one speaker for all masks and four speakers for selected masks) should serve only as a demonstration,” they said. “Inter-subject variations are to be expected, for example due to difference in physiology, mask fit, head position, speech pattern, and such.”
Biden to Ban Menthol Cigarettes, Citing Health Impact on Youth and Black People
The Biden administration is reportedly planning to propose an immediate ban on menthol cigarettes, a product that has long been targeted by anti-smoking advocates and critics who claim that the tobacco industry has aggressively marketed to Black people in the U.S.
On Wednesday, the Washington Post reported that the administration could announce a ban on menthol and other flavored cigarettes as soon as this week.
Roughly 85 percent of Black smokers use such menthol brands as Newport and Kool, according to the Food and Drug Administration. Research has also found that menthol cigarettes are easier to become addicted to and harder to quit than unflavored tobacco products, along with other small cigars popular with young people and African Americans.
Civil rights advocates claim that the decision should be greeted by Black communities and people of color who have been marketed to by what they describe as the predatory tobacco industry.
Black smokers generally smoke far less than white smokers, but suffer a disproportionate amount of deaths due to tobacco-linked diseases like heart attack, stroke, and other causes.
Anti-smoking advocates like Matthew L. Myers, president of Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, also greeted the move to cut out products that appeal to children and young adults.
“Menthol cigarettes are the No. 1 cause of youth smoking in the United States,” he said. “Eliminating menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars used by so many kids will do more in the long run to reduce tobacco-related disease than any action the federal government has ever taken.”
However, groups including the American Civil Liberties Group (ACLU) has opposed the move, citing the likelihood that such an action could lead to criminal penalties arising from the enforcement of a ban hitting communities of color hardest.
In a letter to administration officials, the ACLU and other groups including the Drug Policy Alliance said that while the ban is “no doubt well-intentioned” it would also have “serious racial justice implications.”
“Such a ban will trigger criminal penalties, which will disproportionately impact people of color, as well as prioritize criminalization over public health and harm reduction,” the letter explained. “A ban will also lead to unconstitutional policing and other negative interactions with local law enforcement.”
Pollution Is Making Human Penises Shrink and Causing a Collapse of Fertility, Scientists Say
With many still scoffing at the idea of rampant pollution posing a threat to humanity, a new study could drastically change the conversation: the chemicals across our environment could be the cause of shrinking human penises.
According to a new book by Dr. Shanna H. Swan, conditions in the modern world are quickly altering the reproductive development of humans and posing a threat to our future as a species.
The argument is laid out in her new book Count Down: How Our Modern World Is Threatening Sperm Counts, Altering Male and Female Reproductive Development, and Imperiling the Future of the Human Race.
The book discusses how pollution is not only leading to skyrocketing erectile dysfunction rates and fertility decline, but also an expansion in the number of babies born with small penises.
While it may seem like good fodder for jokes, the research could portend a grim future for humanity’s ability to survive.
Swan co-authored a study in 2017 that found sperm counts had precipitously fallen in Western countries by 59 percent between 1973 and 2011. In her latest book, Swan blames chemicals for this crisis in the making.
“Chemicals in our environment and unhealthy lifestyle practices in our modern world are disrupting our hormonal balance, causing various degrees of reproductive havoc,” she wrote in the new book.
“In some parts of the world, the average twentysomething woman today is less fertile than her grandmother was at 35,” she also wrote, noting that men could have only half the sperm count of their grandfathers.
Swan blames the disruption on phthalates, the chemicals used in plastic manufacturing that also have an impact on how the crucial hormone endocrine is produced
However, experts note that the proper implementation of pollution reduction measures could help humanity prevent the collapse of human fertility.
Visualizing The World’s Deadliest Pandemics By Population Impact
Humanity has been battling against disease for centuries.
And while most contagious outbreaks have never reached full-blown pandemic status, Visual Capitalist’s Carmen Ang notes that there have been several times throughout history when a disease has caused mass devastation.
Here’s a look at the world’s deadliest pandemics to date, viewed from the lens of the impact they had on the global population at the time.
Editor’s note: The above graphic was created in response to a popular request from users after viewing our popular history of pandemics infographic initially released a year ago.
Death Toll, by Percent of Population
In the mid-1300s, a plague known as the Black Death claimed the lives of roughly 200 million people – more than 50% of the global population at that time.
Here’s how the death toll by population stacks up for other significant pandemics, including COVID-19 so far.
The specific cause of the Black Death is still up for debate. Many experts claim the 14th-century pandemic was caused by a bubonic plague, meaning there was no human-to-human transmission, while others argue it was possibly pneumonic.
Interestingly, the plague still exists today – however, it’s significantly less deadly, thanks to modern antibiotics.
History Repeats, But at Least We Keep Learning
While we clearly haven’t eradicated infection diseases from our lives entirely, we’ve at least come a long way in our understanding of what causes illness in the first place.
In ancient times, people believed gods and spirits caused diseases and widespread destruction. But by the 19th century, a scientist named Louis Pasteur (based on findings by Robert Koch) discovered germ theory – the idea that small organisms caused disease.
What will we discover next, and how will it impact our response to disease in the future?
Like this? Check out the full-length article The History of Pandemics
Republished from ZH with permission.