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Researchers in Mexico created a “nose-only mask” to help reduce the spread of COVID while eating and drinking. Here’s what other experts think of the idea.

By Allie Strickler
March 31, 2021
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It's no secret that going out to bars and restaurants is tied to an increased risk of COVID infection. While many places require you to arrive wearing a mask and put it back on to go to the bathroom, once you're at your table, you're typically allowed to keep your mask off to allow for eating and drinking. But what if there was a way to continue wearing a mask while sipping your drink or enjoying your dinner? Enter: the nose-only COVID mask.

Earlier this month, researchers from the National Polytechnic Institute in Mexico created and patented a "nasal mask" to help reduce the spread of COVID-19 during "daily activities that require the removal of face masks, such as eating, drinking", or even during visits to the dentist, according to Milenio, a newspaper in Mexico. (Related: Can the Coronavirus Spread Through Shoes?)

In other words, this nose-only mask definitely isn't meant to replace a regular face mask that covers your mouth, nose, and chin. The researchers designed the nose-only mask to be worn under a normal face mask as an added layer of protection for those moments when you can't cover your mouth, according to Reuters.

Right now it's unclear when the mask would be available to the public, but Milenio reports that the researchers are "currently in talks with a company, which will be in charge of manufacturing the mask, to make it available to society shortly."

It's an interesting concept, and videos of the researchers demonstrating how their nose-only COVID mask works have quickly gone viral. But how much protection against COVID can a nose-only mask really offer?

nose-only COVID mask

"I'm not sure covering your nose and not your mouth offers any documented reduction in [COVID] infection rate," says Jonathan Baktari, M.D., CEO of e7health.com, a preventative health and wellness company in Nevada. While research from Johns Hopkins Medicine suggests that the nose may be a "key entry point for SARS-CoV-2" (the virus that causes COVID-19), the virus can still spread via aerosol droplets from the nose and mouth (not to mention the eyes, too), explains Dr. Baktari. "Theoretically, blocking one channel [the nose] and not the other [the mouth] may be beneficial, but there are no studies that I am aware of that show that," he says.

"I think we can assume that the amount of aerosolization may differ between the nose and the mouth depending on if someone is speaking, coughing, or sneezing, or just sitting there quietly," adds Dr. Baktari. But since you can't really predict these factors, he says he wouldn't recommend relying on a nose-only mask for "significant protection" from COVID, whether you're dining out or not.

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While it's "worth studying" how a nose-only mask might help reduce the spread of COVID in public dining settings, without any data to back up its effectiveness, the "best practice" is to follow recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO), says Abisola Olulade, M.D., a board-certified family medicine physician at Sharp Rees-Stealy Medical Group. This includes sticking to masks made with multiple layers of fabric that cover and fit closely against your nose, mouth, and chin, says Dr. Olulade. (You might even want to consider double-masking for extra protection.)

As for mask-wearing at bars and restaurants, Purvi Parikh, M.D., an immunologist with Allergy & Asthma Network and a co-investigator with the COVID vaccine trials, recommends removing your mask only for eating and drinking and placing it back on whenever you're not actively eating or drinking — yes, even when still sitting at the table. And, of course, be sure to stick to locations that follow social-distancing guidelines, and "don't go out to eat if you're sick," cautions Dr. Parikh.

Bottom line: "Wearing just a nose mask should not give anyone a false sense of security whatsoever," says Dr. Olulade. A nose-only COVID mask isn't necessarily a bad idea, but without research to back it up, your best bet is to stick to evidence-backed face coverings.

The information in this story is accurate as of press time. As updates about coronavirus COVID-19 continue to evolve, it's possible that some information and recommendations in this story have changed since initial publication. We encourage you to check in regularly with resources such as the CDC, the WHO, and your local public health department for the most up-to-date data and recommendations.

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