Edinburgh Research Explorer

Face Coverings and Respiratory Tract Droplet Dispersion

Research output: Working paper


Respiratory droplets are the primary transmission route for SARS-CoV-2. Evidence suggests that virus transmission can be reduced by face coverings, but robust evidence for how mask usage might affect safe distancing parameters is lacking. Accordingly, we investigate the effectiveness of surgical masks and single-layer cotton masks on mitigating dispersion of large respiratory droplets (i.e. non aerosol). We tested a manikin ejecting fluorescent droplets and human volunteers in speaking and coughing conditions. We quantified the number of droplets in flight using laser sheet illumination and UV-light for those that had landed at table height at up to 2m. For human volunteers, expiratory droplets were caught on a microscope slide 5cm from the mouth. Whether manikin or human, wearing a face covering decreased the number of projected droplets by >1000-fold. We estimated that a person standing 2m from someone coughing without a mask is exposed to over 1000 times more respiratory droplets than from someone standing 5 cm away wearing a basic single layer mask. Our results indicate that face coverings show consistent efficacy at blocking respiratory droplets. If aerosol transmission is later determined to be a significant driver of infection, then our findings may overestimate the effectiveness of face coverings.

    Research areas

  • Covid-19, face covering, surgical mask, handmade mask, social distancing, respiratory droplets

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ID: 174883750