New research into COVID-19 mask strategies may help to protect clinical laboratory staff
Since the early days of the pandemic, masks have been both a public health strategy for mitigating the risks of the spread of COVID-19 and a symbol of each individual doing their part to address the crisis. Masks have also been a subject of controversy in some parts of the general public. The mandated use of masks by local governments and businesses has been a focal point for the tensions of the old medical ethics dilemma of public health versus civil liberties.
While the controversy surrounding mask use continues in some groups, the consensus of most of the medical community is that face masks help to reduce the spread of COVID-19, and the CDC cites multiple studies that have demonstrated the efficacy of face masks in reducing the SARS-CoV-2 transmission.
Examining Face Mask Use for Pandemic and Beyond
While face masks are thought to play an important role in mitigating the epidemiological risks of COVID-19, much research is still needed to fully understand how well various types of cloth masks and even “nonmedical” surgical masks work. Aside from the composition of face masks, how they are worn, and how well face mask use is adhered to will influence their efficacy.
A team of researchers from Florida State University recently began researching a previously unexplored aspect of face masks. That is how the shape of the wearer’s face affects the efficacy of their mask. Kourosh Shoele, PhD, Assistant Professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at the FAMU-FSU College of Engineering, is part of the research group examining the fit of face masks and how fit influences the protection the mask provides.
“You may have noticed that your mask collapses onto your face when inhaling and re-inflates when exhaling,” Shoele said in a recent interview. “Or that your glasses fog up when using a mask. This shows perimeter leakage that can dramatically reduce the effectiveness of the mask. Many times, this is simply because the mask doesn’t fit properly. We want to correct these problems.
“The protection afforded by face masks has emerged as a particularly important issue in the COVID-19 pandemic, and the flow physics of these types of masks is extremely complex and not well-studied, especially when it comes to the facial topology of the user,” Shoele added.
Looking to Facial Topology, Flow Physics
Shoele’s team will examine facial topology data and use computational and experimental tools to understand airflow through and around various face masks. That information may be used to guide the design of future masks.
“We are using innovative and powerful new tools to understand the flow physics and mechanics that determine how well the face mask protects,” Shoele explained. “The quantitative analysis we use will provide data to better understand the viral transmission of disease and help us create better transmission models.”
“We think the combined results of simulations and experiments could yield critical insights needed for the design of face masks,” Shoele continued. “The guidance we can provide will help scientists improve face mask design with standards that will help support public health policies.”
Clinical laboratories have played an important leadership role in the communities they serve since the beginning of the pandemic. Understanding the technological developments and research that is ongoing for COVID-19 risk mitigation can help clinical labs advise the organizations and patients they serve.
Staying up to date with the latest technologies may also help clinical laboratories to better protect their staff, reduce shortages of critical personnel, and maintain productivity.
—By Caleb Williams, Editor, COVID-19 STAT