Along with social distancing and proper handwashing, experts have recommended face masks as one of the most effective methods of preventing the spread of coronavirus. However, many citizens have taken issue with mask orders and recommendations in the US. Across social media, people are posing several questions, including “Do masks lower oxygen levels?”
Do Masks Lower Oxygen Levels?
Many fear that the thin layer of fabric will prevent them from breathing properly, thus causing low oxygen levels. A doctor from South Carolina, Dr. Megan Hall, took to Facebook to debunk the myth.
She tested her oxygen saturation and heart rate using a pulse oximeter in four situations for five minutes at a time. The situations included her wearing a regular surgical mask, an N95 mask, with an N95 and surgical mask, and with no mask.
“There is no significant change in my oxygen saturation (or HR) in any scenario. Though it maybe inconvenient for some, you can still breath,” she wrote on Facebook.
Microbiologist Rich Davis also conducted his own demonstration. In his, he showed how effective masks are in halting the spread of respiratory droplets.
He held agar cultures near his face and sneezed, talked, sang, and coughed at them. In one set, he wore a surgical mask. In the other, he wore no mask. He also created another demonstration to show the effectiveness of social distancing with and without a mask.
At a glance, anyone can see the noticeable difference between the two categories. With no mask, the agar cultures are littered with bacteria while the ones faced with a mask are lack visible bacteria. In particular, the cultures where Dr. Davis coughed and sneezed host the most bacteria.
Likewise, masks proved to be effective when tested at different distances. While a six-foot distance resulted in the least bacteria — mask or no mask — there was less bacteria the greater the distance between Dr. Davis and the agar cultures overall.
I’m aware that this simple (n=1) demo isn’t how you culture viruses or model spread of SARS-CoV-2.— Rich Davis, PhD, D(ABMM), MLS 🦠🔬🧫 (@richdavisphd) June 26, 2020
But colonies of normal bacteria from my mouth/throat show the spread of large respiratory droplets, like the kind we think mostly spread #COVID19, and how a mask can block them! pic.twitter.com/16azsiIbZd
Can Bacterial Infections Develop From Moist, Sweaty Masks?
Some believe that wearing a mask will trap moisture to their face. They believe that excessive moisture will then create bacterial infections. Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease professor at Vanderbilt University in Nashville and medical director of the National Foundation of Infectious Diseases, told TODAY there was no evidence to support the claim.
“If it’s in the hot humid air of the summer, yes, it can get sweaty and yucky. If you have a cloth mask, you wash it.” Schaffner said, “If you’re wearing a surgical mask you have to use a new one.”
To properly clean cloth masks, it’s advised to wash them on their own in the washing machine or handwash them. For surgical or N-95 masks, timing the period between uses is going to be the more effective option. A three-day period is the safest as it’s the longest amount of time the virus is expected to live on any surface.
Schaffner told TODAY, “If they were injurious, they couldn’t be recommended by the CDC, state or local health departments.”