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Doctor wears six face masks at once to debunk a stupid anti-mask myth

Published Jul 15th, 2020 11:14PM EDT
Coronavirus Face Masks
Image: AP Photo/Martin Meissner
  • Face masks can reduce the spread of the novel coronavirus, but anti-maskers keep inventing reasons to resist advice or mandates to wear them.
  • One of the silliest reasons they’ve come up with is that face coverings will reduce oxygenation.
  • A doctor placed six surgical masks on his face and demonstrated that his oxygen levels remained the same regardless of the size of his face covering.

The novel coronavirus is out of control throughout the US right now, and not just because the government failed to prepare accordingly to contain the pandemic and reopen the economy safely. There’s also a human factor at play. Given that the planet’s entire population is in this fight together, there are three simple things everyone has to do to reduce the spread in the absence of effective treatment.

  • Keep your distance: Practice social distancing as much as possible and stay home.
  • Hygiene: Wash your hands often, use disinfectant when you’re outside, and clean everything.
  • Face masks: Just wear one when you’re out.

The third point is critical for any indoor interaction between people. The coronavirus can spread via the air indoors, especially in poorly ventilated rooms. But rather than embrace face masks, many people resist wearing them. That’s especially puzzling, considering that you can actually find various types of face masks and covers in stores that can prevent the spread of droplets and aerosols. We’re not in the early days of the pandemic when PPE shortages affected hospital workers and officials everywhere advised against buying face masks so the people who needed them the most could get them.

Anti-maskers have all sorts of explanations for refusing to comply with face mask mandates or guidelines, but one of the stupidest reasons to refuse to wear a face mask has to be the claim that they can reduce oxygen levels. A doctor conducted an experiment to debunk this claim: He wore six face masks at once, and his oxygen levels stayed the same.

Face masks protect both wearers and their contacts from exchanging pathogens. Medical professionals have been wearing them for decades. In fact, if you’ve had any sort of operation lately, you may have noticed the doctors and nurses all had face masks on to protect you from an infection originating from their bodies. None of them fainted or died while they were operating on you and keeping you alive. In fact, in 1951, a person underwent a 96-hour procedure in Chicago, which is believed to be the world’s longest surgery. The medical personnel involved in the procedure wore face masks, and none suffocated during the marathon operation.

Getting back to the present day, you don’t even need a sophisticated face mask. Any sort of face covering can protect you. And it can prevent the droplets you expel when you talk, cough, or sneeze from reaching others. It will absolutely not reduce the amount of oxygen your body grabs from the air with each breath you take.

Dr. Maitiu Tuathail recorded an experiment that demonstrates this. He put on six face masks one after the other while being hooked up to a pulse oximeter. They did not lower his oxygen levels, as you can see on the screen. Sadly, doctors have to resort to these sorts of tricks to prove to people that face masks are safe. The Irish doctor isn’t the only professional who ran the test — you might see other similar clips going viral on social media.

How do we know it’s not fake? Notice the pulse oximeter in his left index finger? That’s hooked up to a machine on his right which gives him the oxygen saturation reading. It stays at 99% throughout the entire process. Any values above 94% are considered normal.

If you still don’t believe them, you should absolutely do the same test at home. Just get a pulse oximeter and use it with a face mask. If you’ve ever worried about managing COVID-19 at home, then you probably know you should invest in a pulse oximeter so you can have it around the house to perform random oxygen readings.

There is one thing you can do to improve your breathing experience while wearing a mask, but it has nothing to do with oxygen levels. Brush your teeth before putting the mask on, or grab some gum.

Chris Smith Senior Writer

Chris Smith has been covering consumer electronics ever since the iPhone revolutionized the industry in 2008. When he’s not writing about the most recent tech news for BGR, he brings his entertainment expertise to Marvel’s Cinematic Universe and other blockbuster franchises.

Outside of work, you’ll catch him streaming almost every new movie and TV show release as soon as it's available.