3 Myths about Wearing Masks

3 Myths about Wearing Masks

By Michael Wong, JD (Founder/Executive Director, Physician-Patient Alliance for Health & Safety)

Research has demonstrated that early adoption of wearing face masks slowed COVID infections –  “Countries with early interest in face mask use had milder COVID-19 infection rates, according to a letter-to-the-editor published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine.”

Myth #1 – COVID Doesn’t Exist, So What’s There to Worry About?

In March 2020, PolitiFact debunked a Facebook post with 8,000 shares claiming that “there is no virus.” PolitiFact is a non-partisan fact-checking website that checks the accuracy of claims and after reviewing Facebook posts denying the existence of COVID-19, PolitiFact concluded “Facebook users are claiming there ‘is no’ coronavirus. That’s ridiculously wrong.”

According to the World Health Organization, as of June 27, 2020, there are 9.6 million confirmed cases of COVID and almost 500,000 deaths. In the United States, the confirmed cases of COVID are more than 2.4 million and almost 125,000 deaths – accounting for about 42% and 25% of the worldwide totals, respectively. 

Unfortunately, this means that the United States is the world leader in confirmed COVID cases and COVID deaths, according to The Guardian:

Myth #2 – “I Can’t Breathe”

“I can’t breathe” are the words spoken by Eric Garner in 2014 and George Floyd

Although this phrase is now infamous and has come to symbolize the need for change in American society and policing, neither of them were wearing masks and their situations had nothing to do with COVID – Mr. Garner and Mr. Floyd couldn’t breathe because police officers were using force that inhibited their airways.

Dr. Megan Hall, a pediatrician in South Carolina performed an experiment to prove that a person’s oxygen levels do not drop while they wear a mask.

From Dr. Megan Hall

Hi friends! I have seen numerous posts and heard people complain they “can’t breathe with a mask on” or they won’t wear one because “oxygen levels drop dramatically while wearing a mask”.  Also, “a mask doesn’t protect you from breathing in the virus” but in the same sentence argue they won’t wear one because they are “rebreathing their exhaled carbon dioxide”. I’m not sure how one can even make sense of this theory; if you really believe the virus is penetrating the mask and you’re breathing it in, how do you also believe your exhaled CO2 is getting “stuck”? Viruses need a vector to spread, COVID-19’s vector is respiratory droplets, those droplets aren’t readily getting through a properly worn mask. 

As a follow up to my previous post about wearing face masks, I did a little experiment.

Below is me in 4 scenarios. I wore each mask for 5 minutes and checked my oxygen saturation (shown as the percentage below) along with my heart rate (HR, in beats per minute) using noninvasive pulse oximetry. Keep in mind, immediately prior to this, I had been wearing the surgical mask for 5 hours. 

Dr. Hall’s results showed:

Thank you, Dr. Hall for your experiment – may everyone learn from it!

Myth #3 – Wearing a Mask Deprives You of Oxygen and Gives You Harmful Carbon Dioxide Exposure and May Cause Hypoxia, Hypoxemia or Hypercapnia

The basis for this misinformation seems to be a Facebook post that altered a Wikipedia diagram and was repeatedly shared:

Keith Neal, FFPHM, FRCP, MD (emeritus professor, epidemiology of infectious diseases, University of Nottingham) disputed the notion that wearing a mask will deplete your oxygen level and impair your health, “This simply won’t happen unless there is an air-tight fit and you rebreathe your air.” 

When you breathe out wearing a mask, the carbon dioxide will go through and around the mask.

Here are CDC’s recommendations on wearing a mask during COVID (graphically represented): 

Tips for Making Wearing a Mask More Comfortable

If you feel like you are having trouble breathing, Lisa Lockerd Maragakis, MD, MPH (Senior Director of Infection Prevention, The Johns Hopkins Health System) advises that you can “remove it outside, once you are away from others, or in your car on your way home.”

The difference between wearing a mask and not wearing a mask is, of course, the fact that you are wearing a mask. Wearing a mask is just not what any of us are really used to doing.

So, with that in mind, here are some tips for making wearing a mask more comfortable, according to Suzan Obagi, MD (Director, University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Cosmetic Surgery & Skin Health Center): 

  • Clean and Moisturize Your Face – use a light sunscreen lotion or cream, preferably a mineral-based sunscreen containing titanium dioxide or zinc oxide, but avoid ointments as they may be too greasy and may adversely affect the seal of certain tight-fitting masks.
  • Don’t Wear Makeup or Foundation – these may cause your skin to break out.
  • If Your Glasses Fog Up while wearing a mask, tape the mask across the bridge of your nose and onto the cheeks to prevent fogging up.

For children, here’s a good article with tips to help children wear a mask.

Wearing a Mask Isn’t a Political Statement, It’s a Caring Statement

Michael Wong (Founder/Executive Director, Physician-Patient Alliance for Health & Safety) said wearing a mask is not a political statement, it is a caring statement. Said Mr. Wong:

I’m wearing a mask during COVID because I care:

  • I care about my family and friends.
  • I care about my neighbors, those who I know and don’t know.I care about healthcare providers.
  • I care about my community.

I’m wearing a mask not to make a political statement.

Are you wearing a mask?

5 thoughts on “3 Myths about Wearing Masks

  1. Loved your post! Vital information for living in the new “normal”

    With the new information provided by WHO, stating that the COVID-19 virus could be airborne in certain conditions, wearing facemasks at all times is now essential for personal safety and the safety of others.
    Cotton facemasks are the most comfortable option during these times. They are skin-friendly, reusable, and can be comfortably worn for long durations.

  2. I really wasn’t aware about this. Thanks for sharing your article it will help a lot of people like me. And a small step to make this world corona free.

  3. I really wasn’t aware of this, but I guess I have seen things like this on Facebook. I don’t get how people can’t just make small changes that would make this whole pandemic easier… Thank you for sharing this! It will help save lives!

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