Do masks work? Baptist Health scientists put masks to the test

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Action News Jax reached out to Baptist Health in Jacksonville in mid-July, asking if they could show us the science behind masks.

They agreed, and the infectious diagnostics team conducted an experiment testing how effective masks are at slowing the spread of germs while doing everyday things like talking, coughing, sneezing and singing.

Today, Action News Jax reporter Ryan Nelson sat down with Aaron Odegard, Medical Lab Scientist at Baptist, to see the results.

“If you’re wearing your mask and you’re at a point like, ‘Why am I doing this?’ This is a nice visual,” he said.`

The scientists conducted the experiment by having members of the team cough, cough twice, sneeze, talk and sing into petri dishes, while wearing a mask, and not wearing a mask.

The results were consistent. Within the experiment, masks reduced, slowed or prevented the spread of germs in the tested scenarios.

The petri dish in which someone sneezed without wearing a mask showed the most bacteria growth.

“You can kind of see the bacteria that grew, so with that bacteria that’s coming out in the droplets from the sneeze could be potential virus,” said Odegard.

The petri dish in which someone sneezed while wearing a mask showed very small bacterial colonies. Odegard says this indicates masks can significantly reduce the spread of germs, but social distancing plays an important role as well.

“Even with a sneeze in a mask, you can kind of see that there was some bacteria that did come through,” said Odegard. “They’re protective, but you still have to remain with some social distancing, you can’t be close talking to people.”

There were also notable differences between the coughing scenarios with a mask, and without a mask.

“Without a mask you can see all the different types of bacteria that are growing,” said Odegar. “With two coughs with a mask it’s kind of showing that there isn’t any growth on the auger plate that we’re using.”

Bacterial colonies also appeared in the talking and singing dishes in which participants did not wear a mask. There was little to no growth in the dishes in which participants wore a mask.

Odegard tells us the results would apply to baseline face coverings.

“It kind of just reaffirms, the concept that masks are actually having a preventative role in keeping you from spreading your germs, and your potential virus to others,” he said.