Study Reveals the Efficacy of Masks and Social Distancing in COVID-19 Prevention

Six feet of social distancing might not be far enough to prevent the spread of COVID-19, but wearing a mask does reduce significantly the spread of airborne particles.

That’s one conclusion of a research study that was published in the journal Building and Environment. The research team was led by Jayaveera Muthusamy of Texas A&M University and included  Northern Illinois University Professor Tariq Shamim, Ph.d., chair of the Mechanical Engineering Department.

The study found that without the aid of a mask, 70% of the airborne particles expelled by a person’s cough will travel beyond 6 feet indoors. Fewer than 1% of the airborne particles traveled as far when the person was wearing a mask.

Researchers also looked at other variables that could affect how the particles travel through the air. They found that age and gender also had an impact with women contaminating the air at slightly lower rates than males of the same age. In addition, they found the particles coughed by individuals who were seated traveled farther than those who were standing.

Professor Tariq Shamim
Northern Illinois University Professor Tariq Shamim, Ph.d., chair of the Mechanical Engineering Department

“I hope that scientific evidence presented by our study will assist in getting wider acceptance of the effectiveness of mask-wearing in controlling the spread of COVID-19 and other contagious diseases,” Professor Shamim said.

Professor Shamim was part of a multi-institutional team that developed the mathematical and computational models to investigate the spread of airborne particles in different indoor settings. In addition to Professors Shamim and Muthusamy, the team included researchers from McGill University of Montreal, Canada, and the University of Sherbrooke, Canada.

“Learning about this virus is key to preventing the spread of the disease, and I’m incredibly proud of the work Dr. Shamim has done with the research team,” said Donald Peterson, Ph.D., dean of NIU’s College of Engineering and Engineering Technology.

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