BANDANAS and scarves have been sported by many during the coronavirus pandemic as an alternative to a standard face mask.
The government announced this week that face masks and coverings are set to become mandatory in shops in England from July 24.
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In June, the use of masks and coverings was also made mandatory on public transport and many people have made their own versions from old t-shirts or by using bandanas and scarves.
While banadanas and scarves will give you some protection, experts have found they are not as effective as surgical masks.
Experts now say that masks and coverings can be split into two distinct groups: respirator masks which are designed primarily to protect the wearer, and cloth face coverings that could be considered to act more as breath diverting devices.
Writing in The Conversation, Simon Kolstoe, senior lecturer in evidence based healthcare and University ethics adviser at the University of Portsmouth said while not all face coverings are the same, it makes sense to wear one in public.
At the start of the pandemic the government urged people to not buy surgical personal protective equipment (PPE) and instead leave this for NHS workers on the frontline.
Prof Kolstoe said that while we would all like to be protected from the virus, a shortage of PPE means that the key aim is to stop the spread of the virus in the wider population.
“Rather than PPE, we are being encouraged to wear face coverings that divert our breath so that if we are carrying the virus, there is less chance of spreading it to other people.
“Surgical masks are the only type of breath diverting masks that are constructed to specific standards (they are considered medical devices in the EU).
“The vast majority of other face coverings that people buy or make are not constructed to any specific standard meaning their effectiveness is highly variable”.
Although your breath will pass through cloth coverings, Prof Kolstoe says the main aim is for the particles to slow down, meaning they don’t spread as far.
A study published last month found that while bandanas and scarves are better than nothing, they aren’t as effective as other coverings.
Researchers in Florida tested three types of masks and found that bandanas allowed particles to travel 3.5ft.
This is while commercial masks kept particles within 8 inches, and stitched cotton masks within 2.5 inches.
Researchers used a laser light sheet and a mixture of distilled water and glycerin to generate the content of a cough-jet.
They found that masks that had been loosely folded and the bandana style coverings provided minimal protection for the smallest droplets.
This is while masks that were well fitted to the face and had multiple layers, as well as the cone style masks, had the most protection.
Experts say bandanas can be made more effective if they are folded in half to create another layer of fabric for particles to get through.
Celebrities such as Michelle Pfeiffer, Sarah Jessica Parker and Johnny Depp have all been seen wearing bandanas and scarves as coverings and Prof Kolstoe says people who wear any type of covering are making a small effort to protect the public at large.
“Although breath diverting devices offer a small amount of protection, especially against splashes of liquid, their main role is to stop exhaled breath travelling too far away from the wearer.
“It makes sense to wear one if the aim is to avoid breathing over other people.
“Although the virus itself can easily pass through such face coverings, if designed well they can be effective in reducing the extent of spread.”
He said filtering face pieces (FFPs) make it difficult to breathe for some, which is why you see some masks that have valves attached to them.
“As the aim of the valve is to make it easier to breathe for the wearer, the valves tend to filter the air coming in, but not as much going out.
“As a result, they are designed to protect the wearer from the environment, not the environment from the wearer.”