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News and Information for Faculty, Staff, and the WSU Community

Why are face masks effective?

Closeup of Butch T. Cougar wearing a face mask.

As the coronavirus pandemic stretches into its eighth month, the WSU Insider figured it would be an ideal time to feature a question from the Ask Dr. Universe archives that is likely on the minds of both Washington State University students and faculty.

WSU nursing professor Marian Wilson and material scientist Hang Liu sat down with the fictional feline Dr. Universe to discuss a 12‑year old’s question about how face masks keep us safe during COVID‑19.

Liu explained that if you look at a cotton mask under a microscope, you would see minuscule fibers woven closely together. The fibers leave very little space for things like tiny droplets that can contain virus particles to get through.

In a way, the material’s fibers create a kind of obstacle course that helps you keep your germs to yourself and not where they might infect other people. Visit the Ask Dr. Universe website for the full explanation as well as answers to more tough questions from curious elementary and middle school students.

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