Health experts dispel face mask rumors

Dr. Robert Gerbo says homemade face masks can be washed, a luxury that professional masks like...
Dr. Robert Gerbo says homemade face masks can be washed, a luxury that professional masks like N95 do not have.(WDTV)
Published: May. 20, 2020 at 1:46 PM EDT
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Debate about face masks is driving a discourse during the coronavirus pandemic, with questions about the effectiveness and safety of face coverings causing some to ignore the overwhelming advice of experts and ditch wearing a mask.

Some cite announcements from the White House Task Force, CDC and World Health Organization early in the pandemic giving guidance against face masks. As more has been learned about COVID-19, they have since released new guidance advising the public to wear face coverings.

"We now know from recent studies that a significant portion of individuals with coronavirus lack symptoms," said Surgeon General Jerome Adams during a White House press conference on April 3, 2020.

"[Masks] are not to protect the wearer," said Brenda Conch, director of education at the United Hospital Center. "It is to protect the environment from the wearer."

Conch advocates wearing masks when entering populated areas like grocery stores, but says people should give themselves breaks when they are alone.

"There is no need for you to wear your mask in the parking lot or in your car. But if you are going to go to a store where you are within six feet of people, then I would wear a mask," said Conch.

One of the newest social media rumors to make the rounds is the threat of hypercapnia, when someone breathes in too much carbon dioxide.

"It is unfortunate that this misinformation is out there," said Dr. Robert Gerbo, director of WVU Occupational Medicine.

Masks are built to filter air, rather than block it. Dr. Gerbo says the purpose of masks is to stop droplets from spreading onto others. Gases like oxygen and carbon dioxide are able to flow through the masks, so not getting enough oxygen or getting too much carbon dioxide is not a risk.

If you are having trouble breathing through your mask, it is recommended that you try washing it – which you should be doing regularly.

"Any kind of face covering, whether it is a mask you made at home or it is an N95 mask, does not make you invincible," said Dr. Gerbo.

That's why they're encouraged to be used alongside other measures, like social distancing and increased sanitation.

As the state reopens, Dr. Gerbo recommends that you continue practicing social distancing, wearing a mask in populated areas and washing your hands thoroughly and frequently.