This section first discusses the ideal filtration characteristics of various masks used in the present study. Thereafter, the near-field flow visualization and velocity measurements around the face of the test subject are discussed. Finally, the results corresponding to particle dispersion in the test room are presented along with the supporting model results.
A. Baseline mask characteristics
Significant variability in essential mask characteristics has been reported in previous studies, which tends to be more significant for non-certified mask types. Thus, baseline parameters for each mask type considered in the present study have been established experimentally and ensured to be consistent for the same mask types tested here. The baseline ideal filtration characteristics of the studied masks are established for the breathing parameters (Table I
) and aerosol employed in the study. An estimate of ideal filtration efficiency, and the associated pressure drop across the mask, is established through tests where the mask is sealed at the point of exhaust [Fig. 2(c)
, as described in Sec. ], thereby removing the dependency on mask fit to the test model. The results are presented in Fig. 3(a)
, showing the particle concentration during exhalation, with results averaged over 50 cycles and normalized by the peak concentrations reached in the unfiltered case (no mask).
In Fig. 3(a)
, for the no-mask case, exhalation begins at approximately 0.5 s, with particle counts downstream of the outlet increasing rapidly after the initiation of the exhalation, followed by an extended period of stabilization at the peak value, and a subsequent decrease in the particle concentration toward the end of the exhalation cycle. A similar trend is observed for the tested mask cases, with lower plateau values reached as a result of filtration. The ideal filtration efficiency for a mask is estimated by computing the change in the average particle concentration within the time interval of 1 and 1.5 s, i.e., the plateau value, relative to the no-mask case, with obtained results summarized in Table II
. The efficiency of the KN95 and R95 masks is the highest at approximately 95% and 96%, respectively, which agrees well with the rated efficiencies for these masks in the absence of leakage. Such high efficiencies are attributed to the electrostatic filters embedded in these masks, which have been shown to effectively filter both charged and neutrally charged particles.53,54
Filtration efficiencies for the blue surgical mask and cloth masks are significantly lower at 47% and 40%, respectively, meaning that more than half of the aerosol particles pass through these masks. The present results are in reasonable agreement with Jung et al.,55
who compared filtration efficiencies of a number of medical and non-medical masks. Note that a relatively wide variation of filtration efficiencies has been reported for these types of PPE in previous studies,56–58
largely attributed to the lack of stringent filtration performance standards.
TABLE II.Filtration characteristics of various masks at an integrated flow rate of 0.4 L s−1. ΔP and Pdyn indicate the peak pressure drop and the peak dynamic pressure, respectively, obtained at the peak flow rate (Q= 0.61 L s−1). The 95% confidence intervals on the mean filtration efficiencies and peak pressure drop are within ±1.5% and ±0.25%, respectively, for all the cases.
Pressure drop across a mask and the corresponding flow resistance coefficient (ΔP/Q
, where Q
is the peak flow rate) are important considerations since both provide measures of mask breathability and, consequently, comfort when worn by an individual, with a lower pressure drop and resistance coefficient indicating higher comfort. The results in Fig. 3(b)
, along with the parameters summarized in Table II
, show that the KN95 and cloth masks have the highest pressure drops and resistance coefficients, indicating relatively poor breathability. In comparison, the pressure drop across the R95 mask is approximately 40% lower than that of the KN95 mask, which is significant given a similar level of filtration efficiency. Pressure drop across the surgical mask is comparable to that of the R95, indicating a similar level of breathability and comfort; however, this comes at the cost of significantly reduced filtration efficiency. It should be noted that substantial variability in measured pressure drop can occur even for the same mask types from different manufacturers;26,56,57,59,60
however, the trends observed in the present measurements fall within the range of values reported previously. Therefore, these results can serve as a qualitative guide toward the balance between ideal filtration performance and breathability for common face masks.
B. Exhalation flow characterization
With baseline filtration characteristics of the masks established, their effect on the evolution of exhaled breath through the nose of the test model is now considered in the vicinity of the face using particle flow visualization and velocimetry techniques. Results for the KN95 and surgical mask are seen to qualitatively represent a high-efficiency mask and common cloth/non-medical masks, respectively. Thus, these two configurations are used here as representative face mask groups, and the results are contrasted with the no-mask case. Figure 4
illustrates nasal exhalation through an instantaneous flow visualization image at the vertical mid-plane of the face and at a phase angle of 180° within the breathing cycle (exhalation begins at 0°). Multimedia views included for each case depict the flow development over a few breathing cycles. The exhaled flow in the case of no mask [Fig. 4(a)
(Multimedia view)] is typical of a transient turbulent jet, with the expelled aerosols directed downwards and the jet front reaching a distance from the nose of approximately 300 mm
within approximately 1 s. The turbulent nature of the jet is apparent, with small scale eddies, visualized by particle clouds, present throughout the jet core, with the darker patches around the jet perimeter showing fluid entrained into the jet by turbulent mixing. In fitting the manikin with a mask, both the KN95 and surgical masks [Figs. 4(b)
(Multimedia view) and 4(c)
(Multimedia view), respectively] are successful in arresting nearly all forward momentum of the exhaled jet. As noted across the literature,61–63
this is the primary protective mechanism of a mask for direct exposure to aerosols as it serves to reduce and redirect the forward momentum of the exhaled breath, which, as will be shown in Sec. , has a significant effect on the dispersion of exhaled aerosols away from the subject over time.
It is important to note that, while masks [Figs. 4(b)
(Multimedia view) and 4(c)
(Multimedia view)] decrease the forward momentum of the respiratory jet, a significant fraction of aerosol escapes the masks, particularly at the bridge of the nose. Further, aerosols can also be seen in front of the surgical mask due to the lower material filtration efficiency (Table II
). These leakages are more readily apparent in the multimedia views. Recent studies employing similar visualization techniques for other types of expiratory events, such as sneezing, coughing, laughing, and speaking,32,61,64
show similar leakage through surgical and common cloth masks. In those studies, higher pressure differences were imposed and therefore particles passing through the mask may have been expected, while the present results highlight that the pressure difference created by normal breathing is sufficient to cause aerosols to pass through the fabric of a surgical mask. In contrast, such leakage is negligible in the KN95 case [Fig. 4(b)
(Multimedia view)], which is representative of high quality, certified masks.
As previously noted, a significant quantity of aerosol escapes at the bridge of the nose in Figs. 4(b)
(Multimedia view) and 4(c)
(Multimedia view), which highlights the importance of the fit of the mask to the face. Here, the fit of each mask is typical of appropriate usage, with the straps tightened (as outlined in Sec. ) and the built-in wire shaped to the bridge of nose. Nonetheless, aerosols escape at the perimeter of the mask due to inevitable imperfections in the mask fit, with the most significant quantity of particles escaping at the bridge of the nose. Other leakage sites include the interface of the mask edges with the cheeks and lower jaw [not captured in Figs. 4(b)
(Multimedia view) and 4(c)
(Multimedia view) due to laser sheet positioning]; however, these results and other supplementary measurements (not shown for brevity) confirm that leakage at the bridge of the nose far exceeds all other leakage points. At the bridge of the nose, the particle clouds that escape the masks are relatively dense in comparison to the exhaled jet in the no-mask case, which is attributed to the significant redirection of momentum needed to force particles out at the top of the mask, resulting in much lower exit velocities and hence reduced turbulent diffusion. The observed particle concentrations just outside the mask qualitatively agree with the results of Sickbert-Bennett et al.65,66
who obtained fitted filtration efficiency (FFE) estimates of more than 95% for inhalation with N95 type masks. However, their FFE estimates are based on the particle concentration entering the mask from the ambient air and are not directly indicative of the mask efficiency when considering the exhalation of aerosols. The results in Fig. 4
illustrate that a notable amount of particles leak out at the perimeter of all masks, which is expected to result in notably lower effective filtration efficiency, compared to ideal filtration efficiency, when exhalation is considered.
presents phase-averaged velocity fields, again at a phase angle of 180° within the breathing cycle, matching Fig. 4
. Multimedia views are also provided for each case, showing phase-averaged velocity field development over the full exhalation cycle. Note that these measurements were performed at the mid-plane of the manikin face, not at the center of a given nostril. For the case with no mask [Fig. 5(a)
(Multimedia view)], typical turbulent jet characteristics are noted, with jet propagation and spreading rate typical of accelerating jet flows.67
Within the measurement plane, peak velocities range from 0.10 to 0.12 ms−1
in the core of the jet, which is within the range of velocities investigated in previous studies for normal breathing.53,56,68–71
The results confirm that the forward momentum is decreased dramatically when the subject is fitted with a mask [Figs. 5(b)
(Multimedia view) and 5(c)
(Multimedia view)], as was seen in the flow visualizations (Fig. 4
). For these cases, the expelled flow is directed primarily upward and backward by the mask and remains attached to the forehead due to the Coanda effect, with peak velocities reduced to less than 0.10 ms−1
. For the surgical mask, the flow that penetrates through the front of the mask is of relatively low forward momentum and, consequently, much lower penetration depth, as seen in Fig. 4(c)
(Multimedia view). Together, the flow visualization and PIV results (Figs. 4
, respectively) highlight important safety aspects when considering aerosols dispersed by an individual’s breathing. When not fitted with a mask, exhalation from the nose produces a relatively strong turbulent jet containing well mixed particles that will disperse relatively quickly away from the subject. While in the case of equipping a mask, the jet momentum is significantly reduced and redirected, leading to leakages of aerosols at any point where the mask does not maintain a tight seal to the face. Based on the results obtained here, the leakages are most significant at the bridge of the nose, leading to dense aerosol clouds exiting near and remaining close to the fore and top of the head.
C. Aerosol dispersion in an indoor environment
Noting the significance of both the ideal filtration characteristics (Sec. ) and fit of a mask (Sec. ), it is apparent that both effects must be taken into account in order to provide an accurate measure of the effectiveness of a mask in reducing the dispersion of an aerosol exhaled by an individual. This is investigated through the measurement of aerosol dispersion from the test model in a vacant indoor space over a period of 10 h, with the particle concentration measured at a 2 m distance from the subject [Fig. 2(a)
], aligned with the widely accepted social distancing recommendations.
In an enclosed space with negligible convective effects, such as the room in which the tests are conducted, the concentration of dispersed aerosols away from the source is governed by the unsteady diffusion equation
where c is the concentration of aerosol particles (particles m−3), t is time, K is the diffusion coefficient (m2 s−1), R is the particle injection rate (particles m−3 s−1), and the sink term containing the decay rate λ (s−1) which takes into account particle decay.35
(1) has been used for modeling in a number of previous studies,17,32,35,72
the model outcomes are predicated on appropriate estimation of the injection rate, decay, and diffusion terms, with the commonly employed coarse estimates only providing qualitative understanding of the spatial and temporal evolution of particle concentration for various room and source configurations. In practice, it is extremely challenging to obtain reasonable estimates for these values,32
while computational results remain extremely sensitive to these parameters.
A significant simplification to Eq.
(1) is commonly employed by assuming instantaneous distribution of produced aerosols in the room as in the following equation:
The solution to Eq. (2), subject to the initial condition c*(t=0)=0, is given by
For the purposes of practical data assimilation considered in the present study, the underlying simplification absorbs the effect of diffusion into the sink and source terms. This makes the solution dependent on the spatial location, and the relevant parameters are marked with an asterisk (c*, R*, λ*). Equation (3) models the temporal evolution of concentration in a typical first-order fashion with a saturation concentration of c*sat=R*/λ*. Although previous studies have noted significant deviations of diffusion-based computational results from the well-mixed model,72–74 the simplified model will be shown to fit well with the experimental data and thus provides a suitable comparison basis for saturation conditions. The latter allows for relative source strength comparisons between different test cases, which is of particular importance for the evaluation of the apparent mask filtration efficiency.
Experimental results from the aerosol dispersion tests are presented in Fig. 6
, with results normalized by the average particle concentration of a single breath (Table I
) and smoothed using a 10 min
moving average. For clarity, the variability between repeated measurements is illustrated by the shaded regions only in the no-mask and KN95 cases, which are representative of the typical variability observed in all the tested cases. In Fig. 6(b)
, the results are also plotted on a logarithmic scale and are fitted based on the typical first-order behavior described by Eq.
(3). The obtained least squares fit parameters are presented in Table III
, with the corresponding confidence intervals determined based on repeated tests.
Apparent filtration characteristics of various masks based on particle dispersion tests over 10 h. R*
((%/h) of the breath particle concentration) and λ*
) are fit parameters estimated using a multi-variable least squares fit of Eq.
(3) to the experimental data in Fig. 6
. Values for the parameters are shown with a 95%
confidence interval based on the t-statistic. Confidence interval on ηAFE
incorporates the variation in the no-mask case.
It can be seen that the simplified model captures the essential concentration trends well. The average relative concentration in the no-mask case is seen to asymptotically tend to the local steady state value of 1.13% of the breath particle concentration after a period of 10 h. Upon fitting various masks to the manikin, the relative concentrations are lowered in comparison to the no-mask case, indicating a reduction in the source strength due to filtration. The same is also captured in the reduction of the relative particle injection rate. However, the relative changes in the injection rate are significantly lower than those expected purely based on the ideal filtration efficiency of the mask material (Table II
), which is attributed to the substantial aerosol leakage seen in Fig. 4
Given close adherence of the experimental data to Eq.
(3), the estimated saturated, i.e., steady state, concentration levels can be used to deduce the apparent filtration efficiency of the masks,
The resulting estimates for the apparent filtration efficiency (ηAFE) are reported in Table III, which confirms that ηAFE for all the masks is significantly lower than the filtration efficiencies for their respective materials presented in Table II. The R95 mask has the highest ηAFE of 60.2%, which is attributed to the tighter fit of the mask obtained by the overhead straps, a relatively stiff fabric, and the built-in soft sealing layer at the nose bridge of the mask. For KN95 mask, the gaps along the cheeks and the nose bridge are found to be comparatively larger, which leads to a lower ηAFE despite a similar filtration efficiency of the material. The cloth and surgical masks perform relatively poorly with efficiencies of only 9.8% and 12.4%, respectively, due to both low material filtration efficiency and significantly higher amounts of leakages around the cheeks and bridge of the nose. Further, due to the higher flexibility of the cloth and surgical mask material, they easily deform during exhalation, causing an increase in the size of the preexisting gaps, allowing more aerosols to escape.
In order to further evaluate the effect of leakage through the gaps around the cheeks and the nose, a separate case with the KN95 mask was considered with 3 mm
gaps created artificially, as described in Sec. . The 3 mm
gaps are representative of the typical gaps observed for the surgical and cloth masks and provide a “loose-fitting” KN95 case. Results for the KN95-gap case in Fig. 6
and Table III
show a significant reduction in the filtration efficiency compared to the baseline KN95 mask, with ηAFE
decreasing from 46.3% to a paltry 3.4%. This offers a holistic perspective on the implications of loose fitting masks and aerosol build-up, in contrast with the results of Sickbert-Bennet et al.65
whose single-point measurement directly behind the mask shows an efficiency (FFE) of more than 90% with a sub-optimally fit N95 mask. An additional point of comparison is provided in the present study by an appropriately fitted KN95 mask equipped with a one-way valve, which has an apparent efficiency of approximately 20%. This illustrates that controlled discharge through a valve on a high-efficiency mask may lead to a better overall exhale filtration compared to either a lower-grade mask (cloth or surgical) or a loosely fitted high-efficiency mask.
An important aspect of mask usage that is not apparent in Fig. 6
due to temporal smoothing and averaging over repeated runs is illustrated in Fig. 7
, which presents raw particle concentrations for a selected subset of test cases. The instantaneous particle concentrations measured within the field of view in Fig. 7(a)
show large temporal variations in local concentrations when masks are used, which consistently exceed those seen for the no-mask case. The instantaneous magnitudes of particle concentrations reach up to 1.6% of the single breath concentration in the case of blue surgical mask, roughly 40% above the saturation concentration reached in the no-mask case. These maximum excursions in the cases of the KN95 and R95 masks are lower; however, the instantaneous spikes in concentration surpass the average no-mask concentration in the first hour of the test. These excursions in the local particle concentrations are attributed to the presence of dense particle clouds that frequently pass through the field of view, as illustrated in Fig. 7(b)
. The figure shows representative concentration maps of the particle clouds in the blue surgical and the KN95 mask cases. Peak concentrations reach up to 3% of the particle breath concentrations in the blue surgical mask case, which are localized within the core regions of the clouds and indicate a much higher threat than that perceived based on the averaged results in Fig. 6
. Although these particle clouds were present in every tested case with a mask, their frequency and sizes decreased for masks with better fits and higher apparent filtration efficiencies (ηAFE
), as illustrated by representative realizations for KN95 and R95 masks in Fig. 7(b)
. The implication for disease mitigation is a significant temporal variability in the exposure risk associated with masks in an unventilated indoor environment. Recent studies72,73
have noted similar concentration excursions attributed to the local flows, exceeding the predictions based on the well-mixed and diffusion based models.
It is of practical interest to investigate the directivity of the exhaled particles for social distancing purposes in indoor environments with poor ventilation. Directivity of the particle dispersion at the 2 m
distance from the source was investigated in the no-mask and KN95 cases, and the results are presented in Fig. 8
. The results for the no-mask case in Fig. 8(a)
show that the average concentrations reached at 90°
decrease in comparison to those at 0°
, but the effect of the orientation is less than 10%. In the case of KN95 mask [Fig. 8(b)
], the particle concentrations at the non-zero orientations are only slightly higher than those at 0°
. While the general trend highlighted by these results is in accordance with the expectations based on the flow visualization results (Fig. 4
), the differences with orientation are relatively minor which indicates that the anticipated effect of directivity due to advection is primarily confined to the near vicinity of the source. In the absence of ventilation effects, turbulent diffusion appears to largely equalize the concentration along the circumferential direction at and beyond the 2 m
radial distance surrounding the source. This is in accordance with the typical deposition mechanisms observed in the case of suspended particles.75
However, the observed effect may be limited to relatively large room sizes, such as those used in the current experiment, where the advection effects near the source become negligible well inside the boundaries of the room. The current results are in qualitative agreement with the results from diffusion based models35
in a poor ventilation scenario.
Finally, the effect of room ventilation and/or air cleaning is investigated on the aerosol dispersion 2 m
in front of the manikin. Measurements are conducted at three different settings of a mobile air purifier installed in the corner of the room (left top corner in Fig. 1
). Due to a high efficiency particle air (HEPA) filtration (>99%
efficiency), the unit allows a controlled modeling of ventilation settings, with effective air-change rates (ACH) of 1.7
, and 3.2 h−1
considered in the present investigation. The results presented in Figs. 9(a)
show a notable reduction in local concentration in front of the manikin even with relatively low effective air-change rates, as also noted by previous studies35,73
) The measured concentrations are seen to decrease with increasing ACH, and the steady-state (c*sat
) is achieved within less than 4 h
in all the air-cleaning cases. The results are fitted to the simplified model [Eq.
(3)] in Fig. 9(b)
, and the fits are seen to approximate the data well. The corresponding fit parameters are summarized in Table IV
. As expected, the increase in ACH results in a notable increase in the decay rate (λ*
), which is reflected in the earlier saturation of the local concentration. This is also in accordance with the increased diffusion coefficient in mixing ventilation scenarios as shown by Foat et al.72
and Cheng et al.76
at comparable ACH. The steady-state values are used to estimate an apparent filtration efficiency (ηAFE
) of the system in order to draw meaningful comparisons with the results from the mask cases in an unventilated scenario. In this case, the apparent filtration efficiency (ηAFE
) is obtained by the relative change in the steady-state concentration (c*sat
) between the ventilated and unventilated cases. The results in Table IV
show that the steady-state concentrations are decreased in the range 69%–84%
for the considered cases and correspond to a much higher ηAFE
compared with the best performing mask in an unventilated scenario (Table III
). However, this also suggests that relatively low ventilation rates (ACH < 3.2 h−1
) may not be sufficient to reduce exposure to within acceptable levels at the typical social distancing guideline of 2 m
, which supports the findings from previous studies.73,77
Apparent filtration efficiencies for various air-change rates (ACH) based on particle dispersion tests with no-mask. R*
((%/h) of the breath particle concentration) and λ*
) are fit parameters estimated using a multi-variable least squares fit of Eq.
(3) to the experimental data in Fig. 9