Updated: Aug 8, 2021
Face masks prevent transmission of infectious respiratory diseases by blocking large droplets and aerosols during exhalation or inhalation. While three-layer masks are generally advised, many commonly available or makeshift masks contain single or double layers. Using carefully designed experiments involving high-speed imaging along with physics-based analysis, we show that high-momentum, large-sized (>250 micrometer) surrogate cough droplets can penetrate single- or double-layer mask material to a significant extent. The penetrated droplets can atomize into numerous much smaller (<100 micrometer) droplets, which could remain airborne for a significant time. The possibility of secondary atomization of high-momentum cough droplets by hydrodynamic focusing and extrusion through the microscale pores in the fibrous network of the single/double-layer mask material needs to be considered in determining mask efficacy. Three-layer masks can effectively block these droplets and thus could be ubiquitously used as a key tool against COVID-19 or similar respiratory diseases.