Friday, June 26, 2020

Mask insanity

Today's PSA: Just because you stop caring about something doesn't mean that thing stops mattering. In other words: We are still in the middle of a pandemic.

A friend of mine posted an article about pandemic numbers rising (quite astronomically in some places) and her post has garnered 213 comments on Facebook. People fighting over whether or not masks work, whether or not masks are a political statement, whether or not masks are stripping us of our freedoms. It was a definite popcorn-muncher (as in you wanted to just pop some popcorn, sit back, and watch the entire conversation devolve into chaos).

How is this even a question at this point?

Anyway, a different friend on the other end of the mask-wearing spectrum posted a video of a a certain representative from Ohio who refuses to wear a mask because he believes "that we are all created in the image and likeness of God. That image is seen the most by our face," and thus he refuses to wear a mask. In the video he has various youngsters stick a GX-2009 gas monitor inside their masks to measure whether or not there is an acceptable level of oxygen in their masks.

Every time the monitor is placed inside the mask the alarm starts beeping and it won't quit until it is turned off manually (so it continues beeping after it's taken out of the mask and is in fresh air; it must be turned off by pressing the reset button). This is important to note. It doesn't turn off once it's back within acceptable, breathable levels. Our politician friend points out than anything less than 19.5% is considered an oxygen-depleted environment. That's true.

So this alarm will go off when it detects an oxygen-depleted environment (or an oxygen-enriched environment, which is also dangerous) and will not turn off when oxygen levels return to normal.

The alarm sounded in all three tests and when he checked back on the "peak reading" they were as follows:
First test: 17.1%
Second test: 18.1%
Third test: 17.6%
Now, I'm just going to point out an interesting fact for you. Fun facts are fun, after all.

After you inhale and you use up a portion of the oxygen from the air you just brought into your lungs, you exhale. And this air that you are exhaling is somewhat depleted of oxygen because, well, you just snatched it right out of the air with your handy-dandy red blood cells. When you exhale, you release air that typically contains 13.6–16.0% oxygen. So when you exhale directly into an air monitor, your breath will cause the air monitor to sound and then it will not turn off even as the air in front of your mouth dissipates and returns to normal acceptable levels.

Now, he does show that simply speaking/breathing into the machine (without a mask) does not cause the alarm to sound. Fine. But his air is immediately swirling around with all the air around him.

But let's talk about the purpose of masks. Masks prevent—or at least slow down—the exchange of your lung air with outside air. That's, like, their design. It's what they are supposed to do. That's, um, actually why wearing one is important. Obviously they have to let oxygen through, otherwise we would suffocate. They do slow down the rate at which exhaled air can dissipate into the environment but they don't entirely prevent oxygen from passing through the mask. And they're perfectly safe to wear—which is why surgeons and dentists wear them for hours at a time.

So, yes, masks momentarily cause oxygen levels directly in front of your mouth to be lower than normal, but I assume when you breathe in again you breathe in some oxygen-rich air as well, thus maintaining your overall homeostasis. I have seen people testing their oxygen saturation levels while wearing masks and wearing a mask has no effect on their oxygen saturation or heart rate.

The weird thing is that I have also heard anti-maskers argue that masking is pointless because the coronavirus is so small that it will just travel through the mask. There is no stopping it, anyway.

So these masks will stop oxygen from flowing through but not a virus? If your mask is stopping oxygen it is stopping the virus. That's, again, the whole point of the mask—that if you happen to be breathing out virus spores (or whatever) into the environment, a mask will limit their ability to travel because the velocity at which they are leaving your body is the mask.

It can't be both ways, anti-maskers! You can't say that masks are dangerous because they don't allow oxygen to get to your brain (which is not true) and that they're pointless because they don't prevent the virus from spreading (which is also not true) because the weave of the mask (or whatever) is larger than the size of the virus.

I would also like to take a minute to question rescue breathing. Current CPR classes often do away with rescue breathing because people are squeamish about putting their mouth over someone else's (I'm no different); chest compressions alone are better than people not doing anything because they're scared of someone else's spit (for real though). But that doesn't mean rescue breaths aren't necessary (they are). Now, there are CPR shields, but my personal favourite are the little manual pumps we had during my lifeguard days. The idea of slapping one of those over someone's face and squishing the pump with my hands? Totally not scary (except for the fact that someone would be near death right in front of me). But, anyway...

Let's say you don't have a fun little hand pump and you have to power those rescue breaths the old fashioned way—with your own two lungs. May I point out that your rescue breaths only contain up to 16% oxygen? That 16% of oxygen is enough to potentially save someone's life.

Slightly irrelevant to my argument, I suppose, but so was our friendly neighbourhood politician showing how bad it is to breathe in car exhaust (thanks for that demonstration, friend).

Anyway, my point is this politician proves nothing, other than the fact that when you exhale into your mask it could momentarily be considered an oxygen-depleted environment. But he's not a scientist (but, neither am I), nor is he a medical professional (but, again, neither am I), so I wouldn't listen to him (but, then again, why listen to me?). Instead we can listen to the people who actually know about these things, like doctors who, again, wear masks all day long.

I honestly can't believe we are having heated conversations about this.

And if you're worried about moisture being trapped in your mask and becoming "mildew ridden over night," I have a suggestion: wash it. You'll be fine.


  1. Sometimes I think that what we are dealing with goes beyond "Mask Insanity" to "Mass Insanity."

  2. Haha and if masks are dangerous then the OR nurses and doctors would have been dead a long time ago since they wear them for hours. Goodness now all of the health care workers would be having problems since we wear N95s on every respiratory patient and those things are really hard to breathe through. People are ridiculous. Utah is one of those places that a lot of people won't wear masks and it is getting worse. I won't be surprised if school will be canceled before we even start. Are you still planning on homeschooling next fall while doing school? I'm tempted to try it but I'm nervous too about the time commitment.