Are masks that fit poorly more effective at preventing the spread of COVID-19 than wearing no mask at all?

Last updated: February 20, 2022
The single study in this list that examines this question found that the answer is yes. A single study is often not sufficient to draw a conclusion so we encourage you to refer to this study merely as food for thought.

Chart summary of 1 study examining this question

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Total studies in list: 1
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A computational model for predicting changes in infection dynamics due to leakage through N95 respirators
"In the absence of fit-testing, leakage of aerosolized pathogens through the gaps between the face and N95 respirators could compromise the effectiveness of the device and increase the risk of infection for the exposed population. To address this issue, we have developed a model to estimate the increase in risk of infection resulting from aerosols leaking through gaps between the face and N95 respirators. The gaps between anthropometric face-geometry and N95 respirators were scanned using computed tomography. The gap profiles were subsequently input into CFD models. The amount of aerosol leakage was predicted by the CFD simulations. Leakage levels were validated using experimental data obtained using manikins. The computed amounts of aerosol transmitted to the respiratory system, with and without leaks, were then linked to a risk-assessment model to predict the infection risk for a sample population. An influenza outbreak in which 50% of the population deployed respirators was considered for risk assessment. Our results showed that the leakage predicted by the CFD model matched the experimental data within about 13%. Depending upon the fit between the headform and the respirator, the inward leakage for the aerosols ranged between 30 and 95%. In addition, the non-fit-tested respirator lowered the infection rate from 97% (for no protection) to between 42 and 80%, but not to the same level as the fit-tested respirators (12%). The CFD-based leakage model, combined with the risk-assessment model, can be useful in optimizing protection strategies for a given population exposed to a pathogenic aerosol."
Prasanna Hariharan
2021 Scientific Reports