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Protecting Against COVID-19


Scientists tell us to keep social distance, wash our hands often, wear a mask to protect ourselves from the coronavirus. But this week, President Trump floated a couple of his own ideas, including exposing the body with ultraviolet light. Here to offer some scientific tips on trying to keep yourself safe is NPR science correspondent Maria Godoy. Thanks for being with us.

MARIA GODOY, BYLINE: Good morning, Scott.

SIMON: Maria, is ultraviolet light any possible way to kill the virus?

GODOY: Not in the way the president was musing about. UV light has actually been used for years to disinfect surfaces in hospitals and labs, but you have to use it in a specific wavelength spectrum known as UVC light. And this kind of UV light is really harmful to the eyes and skin, so when they use it, they only use it to disinfect surfaces when people are not around. You would definitely not want to try UVC light as a way to treat or disinfect a person.

SIMON: So to be absolutely specific about it, stay away from UV light to disinfect your body.

GODOY: Yeah. Please don't do it.

SIMON: All right. Well, thank you for indulging our interest because I understand the real scientific reason that you're here today is to talk to us about pantyhose.

GODOY: Yeah (laughter), exactly. There's actually some really interesting research into nylon pantyhose out there. And it has to do with using stockings to make more effective face masks at home.

SIMON: (Laughter) Please tell me we don't have to wear them over our heads at home and look like bank robbers on top of everything else.

GODOY: (Laughter) No, not exactly. Actually, scientists started looking at pantyhose as face protection back in the early '80s. After the Three Mile Island nuclear accident, researchers were basically looking to see what kind of household items you could use at home to protect yourself against breathing in nuclear fallout. Here's scientist Loretta Fernandez of Northeastern University.

LORETTA FERNANDEZ: What they found in the '80s was that if you just put a section of pantyhose over your face and stuffed anything in there, that would do a pretty good job of keeping the fallout particles out.

GODOY: So Fernandez heard about this research from a colleague, and she was really intrigued because she's been trying to figure out how to make better homemade masks during this pandemic. And she's actually been testing the masks that people are making to donate to hospitals. And she found when you add an outer layer made from pantyhose to the top of one of these homemade masks, it makes them really way more effective at filtering out particles.

SIMON: But is it worth really adding that extra layer to the masks that we already have to wear?

GODOY: If you're worried about health, yeah, because the researchers found that just this extra nylon layer can make a homemade mask as much as 50% more effective. And when they added that extra nylon layer, some of the masks performed as well or better than a surgical mask. And even the surgical masks they were testing performed better with that nylon layer.

SIMON: But do you have to be an expert crafter to make it at home?

GODOY: No, no, no, no. It's really easy. You basically take the leg on a pair of pantyhose, and then you cut a section about 8 to 10 inches deep from top to bottom so that it looks like a ring. And then you take this ring and you put it on top of your homemade cloth mask because the goal is really to create a tighter seal between the mask and your face because how well a mask works is a function not just of what material it's made out of but just how well it's sealed to your face.

And I should say that this research hasn't been peer-reviewed yet, but I ran it by several top infectious disease experts who've studied masks, and they thought it was really ingenious, a great way to make a cloth mask more protective. But I should say if you want to try this at home, Fernandez does have a tip.

FERNANDEZ: You know, having done this, I would recommend, perhaps, a queen size (laughter) just to make breathing easier.

GODOY: And, by the way, in case anyone's wondering, she says tights should work, too.

SIMON: Truly news you can use. NPR science correspondent Maria Godoy, thanks so much for being with us.

GODOY: My pleasure, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.
Maria Godoy is a senior science and health editor and correspondent with NPR News. Her reporting can be heard across NPR's news shows and podcasts. She is also one of the hosts of NPR's Life Kit.
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