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Study Finds Cloth Masks Protect Wearer, Others

Researchers from Virginia Tech recommend well-fitted three-layer masks to help prevent the spread of COVID.

A recent study out of Virginia Tech found that cloth face coverings help to protect both the wearer and others who are nearby from spreading the coronavirus.

The research, led by airborne disease transmission expert Linsey Marr, found that a well-fitted three-layer mask with outer layers made of a flexible, tightly woven fabric and an inner layer designed to filter small particles provides at least 75% filtration efficiency from respiratory droplets produced during breathing and speaking.

Linsey Marr, and team
Linsey Marr, a civil and environmental engineering professor at Virginia Tech, and students Charbel Harb (left) and Jin Pan (right) worked on a recent study on the effectiveness of cloth masks.

“Some people say, ‘Well, an N95 respirator can block 95% of that most penetrating particle size, and anything else is worthless,’ ” says Marr, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Virginia Tech’s College of Engineering. “It’s true that some of the cloth masks that we looked at only block 10 or 20% at that size. But once you get up to the sizes that we think are more important for transmission, like 1 to 2 microns or even 5 microns, those cloth masks are able to block half or more.”

SAR-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, is about 0.1 microns large, but, Marr notes, “it doesn’t come out of us naked.” Instead, it’s carried in larger respiratory droplets, or aerosols, that contain salts, proteins and organic compounds, leading to aerosols up to 100,000 times larger in mass than the virus itself. For their study, Marr’s team focused on a size range of 1 to 2 microns for testing homemade and commercially available face coverings.

“It’s not something I would ask a healthcare worker to wear in high-risk situations,” she says. “They would need the best protection we can get. But given that it’s impractical to have everyone in the general public walking around wearing an N95, I think homemade masks are definitely helpful.”

In the study, Marr and her team of researchers set up conditions as close to day-to-day life as possible to best match how people go about a typical day wearing face coverings. They looked at nine homemade masks, as well as a surgical mask and a face shield, evaluating their ability to trap particles in size from 0.04 microns to more than 100 microns. Each mask was tested for outward efficiency – how well it traps particles exhaled by the wearer – and inward efficiency, for mask wearers as they inhale. At the low end of particle sizes, homemade masks performed poorly, but at the larger end, several of the masks could trap 50% to 80% of particles in tests of both inward and outward efficiency. Given what scientists have learned in the last year about how the coronavirus is spread, that performance is significant, Marr says.

Virginia Tech shared electron microscope scans of the material tested in the study
Virginia Tech shared electron microscope scans of the material tested in the study. Click here for a larger image.

In the testing, researchers mounted two manikins on opposite sides of a chamber to mimic a pair of inhaling and exhaling people talking closely. They connected the exhaling manikin to a medical nebulizer that generated droplets from the mouth. The other manikin had a vacuum line in the mouth to mimic inhaling. Measurements were taken of particles in the chamber from both sides.

The team found that masks tended to perform better as sources of outward protection than inward, but the differences in most cases weren’t statistically significant.

Because of the controlled setup and lack of human subjects, the research has some limitations, according to Marr. Chiefly, the experiments didn’t factor in things like mask adjusting or variability in airflow that occurs when people breathe in and out. Still, Marr believes her team’s work is a good complement to other studies being done on reducing transmission of the coronavirus.

“No one study by itself is going to tell you the whole story,” Marr says. “And no one intervention will stop the spread of COVID-19 alone. The mask is one of the many interventions that we need to combine together.”

The Virginia Tech study, published in November on medRxiv, has not yet been peer reviewed.

Facebook Buys Kustomer for 1B

The acquisition continues the social media juggernaut’s push to help companies use its platforms for business.

In another major acquisition for the social media juggernaut, Facebook has purchased Kustomer, a startup specializing in customer relationships. Terms of the deal weren’t disclosed, but people familiar with the matter said it would value New York-based Kustomer at a little over $1 billion, The Wall Street Journal reported.


Kustomer’s technology gathers conversations from different channels, such as customer-service platforms and chatbots, and displays them on a single screen. It’s a helpful tool to examine the history between a company and its customer and will fit quite nicely in Facebook’s ever-growing offering of platforms for companies to do business online, especially during the pandemic. In May, the company launched Facebook Shops, which lets businesses create online stores through Facebook and Instagram.

Prior to the acquisition, the companies already had a relationship. Kustomer allows businesses to aggregate and respond to customer inquiries that come in through Facebook Messenger. In October, Kustomer said it also began integrating with Facebook’s Instagram messaging. Messaging companies on social media rather than picking up the phone is becoming the preferred method of interaction for customers. For example, Facebook said more than 175 million people reach out every day to businesses using its WhatsApp messaging service.

Kustomer was founded in 2015 by Brad Birnbaum and Jeremy Suriel, two entrepreneurs who sold a previous company to Inc. Kustomer was valued at $710 million in a private funding round roughly a year ago, according to PitchBook.

How to Manage Your Reputation Over Social Media

Five practical tips for protecting your brand on networking sites.

1. Acknowledge Errors
If you make a small mistake in a post or tweet, such as a spelling error, and you catch it quickly, delete the post and repost with the corrected spelling. However, if the post has some engagement on it, or if you tag the wrong company, delete it and repost while owning up to the mistake in a pithy, lighthearted tone. Audiences like to see brands that have an authentic, self-deprecating side. Acknowledging the error shows you’re not too proud to admit there are imperfect humans managing the brand’s presence. Also, consider enlisting a few more people at your company to look at posts and tweets before they’re published to mitigate the chance of errors.

Social Media

2. Tread Lightly
Recent discourse surrounding diversity practices presents an opportune time for brands to express their support for minority communities. But be careful – posting your own support for the cause over social media can look like tokenism or jumping on the bandwagon. Before publishing anything that alludes to current events, especially if they’re controversial and elicit strong emotions, consider running the post by a few people whose opinion you trust. Ask them for an honest assessment of how it sounds. If there’s any chance it could sound like opportunism, edit it accordingly or don’t post it at all. Just one tone-deaf post can severely harm a brand’s image and result in fallout that then needs to be managed.

Only 54% of companies have a plan in place to deal with a social media emergency.
(Reputation Management)

3. Respond to Complaints
If you receive negative feedback about recent posts or customer service over social media, determine if it’s worth responding. Some people head to social just to voice their opinions, but if someone has a legitimate complaint, respond in a measured way that’s not accusatory or critical. You can be sure that others are watching to see how you handle yourself. Try to defuse the situation by affirming the complaint and asking if they’d be willing to continue the conversation in a direct message, email or phone call. Delete complaints only if they contain offensive language, and post explanations about why you had to take action. Otherwise, let the post stand, whether you’ve decided to respond or not. Taking posts down looks like you have something to hide.

4. Enlist a Social Media Manager
Social media moves fast, and it’s become a key aspect of marketing strategy. Consider hiring a full-time social media manager who knows best practices across multiple platforms, posts consistently in the brand’s voice, and quickly addresses complaints. It’s a mistake to think it can just be put in the hands of a Gen Zer who needs a job; it should be more than a part-time internship. They need to know the ins and outs of a company to keep the tone consistent and be empowered to respond to queries. Keep social managers in the loop as to what’s going on at the company and ask them to report regularly on their ongoing strategy.

5. Create a Crisis Plan
If something negative happens – a tone-deaf post goes viral or people pile on a complaint – have a plan in place for addressing it. Deleting comments isn’t a strategy. As a precaution, develop a template for a statement so you can act quickly in the event of a crisis. This is a time to be upstanding and professional while acknowledging the gravity of the situation; avoid any attempts at humor. Make sure it’s approved by leadership and proofed by trusted colleagues. Then, determine the chain of command for putting out subsequent fires. Also, consider consulting with a crisis communications expert for developing a plan.

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