The Coronavirus Conspiracies
Claim: Masks stop oxygen or build up carbon dioxide
There are further claims such as masks make you sickand supress your immune system
Let's start off with some objective verifiable facts. What is breathing air made up of? We need to know what we're breathing before we know if masks can stop those things or not. I also want to contrast this with claims that a mask can't stop a virus.
According to Space it's:
Nitrogen — 78 percent
Oxygen — 21 percent
Argon — 0.93 percent
Carbon dioxide — 0.04 percent
Trace amounts of neon, helium, methane, krypton and hydrogen, as well as water vapor
Let's not worry about the trace elements or carbon dioxide for now. Let's put argon aside and focus on the dominant two:
If you're interested in what Van der Waals radius is, you can check it out here.
From a very detailed study in the National Institute of Health titled SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) by the numbers:
"Electron micrographs of negative-stained 2019-nCoV particles were generally spherical with some pleomorphism. Diameter varied from about 60 to 140 nm."
nm is nanometers. The National Nanotechnolody Coordinated Infrastructre says: "A nanometer is one billionth of a meter, 0.000000001 or 10-9 meters."
We have 140 nanometers vs 155 pictometers. The virus is 903 times larger than a nitrogen atom. I mention this because if you claim that the virus can block air, but can't stop a virus, then you have to understand that you make absolutely no sense. For a visual comparrison.
A giraffe is typically 5 to 6 meters according to Zooologist.com. Let's say 6. To compare the size of the virus (which is now a terrifying mutant giraffe virus) with nitrogen, the atom would be....... 6.6 mm.
Here's out giraffe. Let's call him Tim.
Let's put the bullet next to Tim for a size comparrison.
Let's take a look
There it is!
The bullet is a muddled few pixels. The size difference is incomprehensible.
Or to put it another way: Nitrogen is an 8.5 cm apple, and the virus is a pile of 50x 1.5m high cars. They aren't comparable.
I think you can guess where this is going but let's cover it anyway.
From ScienceDirect: Carbon dioxide is "3.34 × 10−8 cm." or 0.34 nanometers. Sars-Cov-2 is up to 140 nanometers. Carbon dioxide is 411x smaller than the virus. If our terrifying virus giraffe stood next to our bullet now, it would be 1.3 cm.
Not very different, is it? So from this can we please stop claiming that masks can't stop a virus but somehow stop oxygen and keep in carbon dioxide? It makes no sense.
How large are cloth mask pores?
According to a new study titled Optical microscopic study of surface morphology and filtering efficiency of face masks, the pore size of various cloth masks ranged between 80 to 500 μm. μm is in micrometers. That's 1000x larger than a nanometer and the next measurement below millimeter.
Let's take the low end estimate of 80 micrometers.
We have 3 different scales now. We have micrometers, nanometers, and pictometers. Let's normalise everything.
Nitrogen atoms: 00.000155 micrometers
Oxygen atoms: 00.000152 micrometers
Carbon Dioxide molecule: 00.000334 micrometers
Cloth mask pore size: 80 micrometers
Or to put it another way:
Nitrogen atoms: 516,129x smaller than a low end mask pore
Oxygen atoms: 526,315x smaller than a low end mask pore
Carbon Dioxide molecule: 239,520x smaller than a low end mask pore
Here's a fun size comparison. Mount Everest is 8848 meters high. If a mask pore was the size of mount everest, then carbon dioxide would be.... less than 4cm. It's unfathomable at that scale difference.
Before you then ask: "Then how can it stop a virus?". The answer to that is on the Facemasks page, but in short they block the respiratory droplets you eject which carry the virus. You don't shed the virus in a pure form, it's carried in your droplets which do get blocked by a mask.
Is it possible that some oxygen and nitrogen gets blocked by a mask? Sure. Is it reasonable to say that some co2 does get trapped in the mask? Sure. But that's not what people are saying. They're claiming that the blocking of oxygen and the co2 retained is significant enough to lower your immune system. As a note, no one has ever cited a source when claiming this.
But you can. Anecdotal I know, but personally I've been wearing a mask for months now. My commute can take between 70 and 90 minutes. That includes a 40 minute bus journey and around 30 minutes on the London Underground. I've done this twice a day since face masks were asked to be worn in the UK.
I've done this through heatwaves in which it was so hot that I sweat inside my mask and into my mouth. Disgusting I know. It's hot and uncomfortable and isn't nice to wear. I've done all of this breathing through my nose. Now let's ask ourselves a quick question:
If you think face masks make you unable to breathe, then how are nurses working for hours in N95 masks? They aren't allowed to take them off, yet they function all shift during a pandemic wearing N95 masks.
"Seeing people in the community complain about their masks that they have to wear for half an hour to go to the shops is a little bit disheartening when our masks actually cause us physical injuries, just to keep us and our patients safe."
Here's another article about Nurses retaining N95 injury on shift from NPIAP:
"The position paper noted that pressure and shear, known to cause pressure injuries in patients, are now causing pressure injuries in healthcare providers who, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, are wearing PPE masks, face shields and goggles for long periods at a time, day after day."
But I actuially can't breathe
Some people just can't wear a mask for medical reasons. Small children also are not supposed to wear a mask. From my own personal excperience wearing cloth and surgical masks, breathing is uncomfortable but more or less the same.
What makes the experience unpleasant is the humidity a mask brings to your face and the effect that has on your breahting. Wearing a mask makes it harder to breathe for sure. "Ah-Ha! He admitted it!" Harder, yes. Impossible, no. In the same way that it's harder to walk backwards than it is to walk forwards, but it's nothing major.
This connection between humidity and stress has been studied, too. Granted this is a small sample size, though.
They found that different masks increased mask microclimate temperature and humidity and heat stress. Discomfort was higher when wearing masks that were more humid and hot.
"In our investigation, microclimate temperature, humidity and skin temperature inside the facemask increased with the start of step exercise, which led to the different perceptions of humidity, heat and high breathing resistance among the subjects wearing the facemasks. High breathing resistance made it difficult for the subject to breathe and take in sufficient oxygen. Shortage of oxygen stimulates the sympathetic nervous system and increases heart rate"
"Mean heart rate, microclimate temperature, humidity and skin temperature inside the facemask, together with perceived humidity, heat, breathing resistance in the facemask, and itchiness, fatigue and overall discomfort, were significantly (P<0.01) higher for N95 masks than for surgical masks. In other words, the subjective perception of breathing difficulty and discomfort increased significantly with increasing thermal stress."
"Furthermore, the surgical facemasks with significantly higher moisture permeability and air-permeability were thinner than the N95 facemasks, indicating that surgical facemasks should be more breathable and less humid and hot"
"Therefore, it can be concluded that N95 and surgical facemasks can induce significantly different temperatures and humidity in the microclimates of facemasks, which have profound influences on heart rate and thermal stress and subjective perception of discomfort."
You might be raising your eyebrows at that line: "High breathing resistance made it difficult for the subject to breathe and take in sufficient oxygen."
Oxygen Saturation Study
"A blood-oxygen saturation reading indicates the percentage of hemoglobin molecules in the arterial blood which are saturated with oxygen. The reading may be referred to as SaO2. Readings vary from 0 to 100%. Normal readings in a healthy adult, however, range from 94% to 100%."
Here's a study titled Preliminary report on surgical mask induced deoxygenation during major surgery.
They measured oxygen saturation before and after surgery when using surgical masks.
"As the duration of the operation increases, oxygen saturation of hemoglobin decreases significantly."
"Oxygen saturation of hemoglobin decreased significantly after the operations in both age groups (p<0.0001). The post operational decrease was more prominent in surgeons over 35 when compared to the surgeons under 35"
Ah-ha! Gotcha! Well.... Looking at the values on the graphs provided in the study, the deoxygenation even up to 3-4 hours decreased by less than 2%. The range for both pre and post-surgery is 98 and 96% oxygen saturation. If you look above, the normal range is between 94 and 100%. Heart rate also fluctuated by no more than 10 bpm.
"Surgical masks may impose some measurable airway resistance, but it seems doubtful if this significantly increases the process of breathing. Although it might have appeared to be likely that hypoxemia results from the increased CO2 content of the inspired air due to the exhaled CO2 getting trapped beneath the surgical face mask"
Be careful to be mindful of the language. It's "doubtful if this significantly increases the process of breathing."
"Although it might have appeared to be likely."
You have to be careful when speculative language is used in studies, because it's an easy way to let your confirmation bias run wild.
If nurses can wear more restrictive N95 masks all shift and be fine, and if 3-4 hours surgery with surgical masks keeps doctor's oxygen saturation within the normal range, then I have an extremely hard time believing these claims.
I've personally wore masks in heatwaves, both surgical and thick cotton masks. I've been OK. The worst thing is the humidity and temperature in the mask.
I've seen no compelling arguments for mask damage or mask injury. Is breathing a little harder? Yes. Is it very uncomfortable? Yes. Is wearing a mask preventing you from breathing, lowering your immune system, and building up co2? No. It's not.
This is a misleading claim. There is an element of truth to it as with all conspiracy theories, but ultimately it comes from a misinformed position which is grounded in "I don't wanna wear a mask."