This Is the Single Safest Face Mask, Says World's Fastest Supercomputer

Of the most commonly available face masks, this is the most effective, according to a new research.

Since the coronavirus pandemic began, we've all gotten much more acquainted with face masks. But between the DIY face masks, the blue medical masks, neck gaiters, bandanas, and many more face covering options, it can be difficult to know what to use to protect yourself—and other—from the virus. Now, a Japanese supercomputer that claims to be the fastest in the world has run the tests and identified which type of commonly available face mask is safest when it comes to limiting the spread of germs and viruses. The winner? The standard light-blue disposable masks.

According to Nikkei Asian Review, the Japanese supercomputer knowns as "Fugaku" recently ran simulations involving multiple types of masks. It found that nonwoven disposable face masks, i.e. the blue medical masks you see everyone wearing, are more effective at blocking droplets emitted when a user coughs compared to woven masks made from cotton or polyester. The results of Fugaku's research were announced on Aug. 25 by the Rikken Institute, which is a Japanese-government research establishment.

The team behind the tests revealed that "nonwoven masks blocked nearly all droplets emitted in a cough," Nikkei Asian Review reports. However, the cloth and polyester woven masks stopped around 80 percent of particles, "making them effective at slowing the spread of the coronavirus" as well, according to the website.

The computer model did show that nonwoven masks allowed more than 10 percent of droplets to escape through gaps between the mask and the wearer's face. However, polyester and cotton masks allowed up to 40 percent of droplets to pass through, comparatively, because the fibers that make up the woven masks have more gaps than the nonwoven fabric.

You can see a visual representation of the study's finding in the video below.


In terms of face shields, the researchers found that though large droplets did stick to the inside of the shield, smaller ones were able to escape through gaps on the side and bottom of the covering.

So, while disposable nonwoven masks are most effective, the researchers noted that wearing a cloth or polyester woven mask is still much better than going without one entirely. "What is most dangerous is not wearing a mask," Makoto Tsubokura, a team leader at Riken's Center for Computational Science, told Nikkei Asian Review. "It's important to wear a mask, even a less-effective cloth one."

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That all being said, the mask that is most effective at preventing the spread of the virus is the N95 mask, at least according to the Food and Drug and Administration (FDA). But the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) does not recommend that the general public wear N95 respirators because they are critical supplies that need to be reserved for health care workers and other medical staff. For more research on the most effective way to keep safe from COVID-19, check out These Are the Best and Worst Face Masks, Ranked by Science.


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