ROCHESTER, Minnesota — With the likelihood that some families still will blend on Thanksgiving and over the weekend — despite the recommendations of health experts — Mayo Clinic released the unpublished results of a study they’ve been working on.
The study shows how effective masks and social distancing really are in preventing the spread of the coronavirus.
Guidance at the beginning of the pandemic, Mayo Clinic doctor Matthew Callstrom admits, was confusing.
“Is six feet somehow magical? How much do masks really help?” Callstrom said.
So Mayo Clinic engineered a study to measure the effectiveness of masks and social distancing from a practical standpoint.
“We simulated how people work together, maybe eating lunch together. So we actually measured what that interaction looked like. In terms of particle transmission,” Callstrom said.
Using mannequins distanced at one foot, three feet and six feet apart, researchers measured the amount of respiratory droplets and aerosols when one participant is masked, both are masked, and neither are masked.
The study found masks especially helpful for protecting others.
When the COVID-positive simulated mannequin wears a mask, the amount of exposure on the target is reduced by more than 99%, even at just one foot distance.
Researchers also found masks protect the one wearing them. If the COVID source is unmasked but the target wears one, exposure is still reduced 60% at one foot, and much more with distance.
The study found that "magical" 6-foot distance really is the point at which exposure severely drops off, even without masks. “In fact, if you're wearing a mask and they're six feet away, it's at baseline. So that combination of masking and distancing is very important,” Callstrom said.
Simulations also indicate cloth masks and paper surgical masks are equally effective in protecting against COVID-19.
“There's a lot of confusion about whether or not it's (masking) truly valuable, but we've objectively shown that its absolutely critical,” Callstrom said.