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Study reveals the efficacy of masks and social distancing in COVID-19 prevention

October 25, 2021

Six feet of social distancing might not be far enough to prevent the spread of COVID-19, but wearing a mask does reduce the spread of airborne particles by 70 percent. That’s the conclusion of a research study that was published in the journal Building and Environment. On the research team was NIU’s Mechanical Engineering Department Chair and Professor Tariq Shamim, Ph.d.

The study found that without the aid of a mask, 67 percent of the airborne particles expelled by a person’s cough will travel beyond 6 feet indoors. Fewer than one percent 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.

Tariq Shamim, Ph. D., professor and chair of the Mechanical Engineering Department at CEET.

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

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 Professor Shamim, the team included researchers from Texas A&M, 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 Dean of NIU’s College of Engineering and Engineering Technology, Donald Peterson, Ph.D.