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Cotton and face covers

Face covers will be the face of the world in the fight against COVID-19

With confirmed cases globally over one million and deaths over 50,000, the need for prevention and containment technologies are growing exponentially.

As the viral transmission is through air droplets that contain the microbe, social distancing has been rightly mandated. Countries and local municipalities are administering social distancing by varied means. India has a national lockdown for 21-days and several regions around the globe are advocating shelter in place.

Figure: Research carried out by researchers at the United States’ Department of Agriculture in the last 1960s reveal that cotton can contain virus spread. 

As a way of enhancing the needed social distancing, face covers are being considered and recommended. While cloth-based face covers may not be efficient in protecting from fine aerosolized particles, it will help with containing the unwanted spread and help with psychological immunity. Nature and the type of face covers matter.

Cotton offers promise as a potential candidate for face covers

Research carried out by researchers at the United States’ Department of Agriculture in the last 1960s reveal that cotton can contain virus spread. Although not carried out on corona strain, the vaccinia virus study showed that they only persist for a shorter time on cotton compared to another material studied. The virus did not persist on cotton cloth beyond 72 hours. Our laboratory is currently working with multiple collaborators in coming up with improved masks and have some preliminary results showing a mask with cotton-based material as the core absorbent material may offer some benefits.

A recent study by a team of United States’ researchers from government laboratories and academia on SARS-CoV-1 virus’ stability on different surfaces showed copper and cardboard seem to be better candidates in containing virus spread as against plastic and stainless steel. No SARS-CoV-1 virus was measurable on copper and cardboard beyond eight hours.

General inference from these studies shows that viruses do not persist longer on cellulosic materials. Additionally, moisture regains of cellulosic materials will be advantageous as humidity affect the persistence.

Based on over two decades of cotton research in our laboratory, it is becoming clear that cotton can find advanced applications such as toxic chemical decontamination wipe, oil absorbent and currently in a war against COVID-19.

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