Last Friday our readers told us they would like to see us debunk more conspiracy theories. The above post showed up on Facebook last night, and we thought it was an excellent opportunity to follow up on your request!
Conspiracy theories like these are extremely dangerous as they undermine public health efforts and ultimately could lead to considerable harm or death. It is our hope that by taking the time to go through some of these arguments and explain why they are wrong, that some people who might otherwise have found them compelling will see them for what they are.
OSHA Specialists vs Masks
Two outspoken OSHA (Occupational Health & Safety Administration, which is the US equivalent of our Canadian Centre for Occupational Health & Safety) specialists have been on a personal crusade against businesses and states encouraging or requiring masks to be worn. To this end, they have released statements, videos, and been interviewed sharing data and opinions on the dangers of mask-wearing. The interview we are specifically looking at today can be found here.
Kristen Meghan is credited as an Occupational and Environmental Toxicologist, she is also credited by OSHA and teaches others about OSHA compliance. She is also a well-documented chemtrail conspiracy enthusiast for at least the last 7 years. She lives in Michigan USA.
Tammy Clark runs a safety & regulatory compliance consulting firm that specializes in the construction industry and is also an accredited OSHA trainer. She also is credited as being a certified medical instructor through the National Ski Patrol, and more. She also lives in Michigan USA.
Now that you know the people being interviewed, we will now go through the interview and look at all the major points brought up.
Who Knows More: Doctors or OSHA Specialists?
The interview starts early on by asking who would know more about mask safety, doctors? or the OSHA specialists who train workplaces on how to wear and fit masks? Tammy responds to this by saying that doctors are trained in medicine, but OSHA specialists are trained in PPE (personal protective equipment). She goes on to discuss the processes for training people on PPE for the medical field.
This is all technically true, but it also badly misrepresents the situation. OSHA specialists will of course be more versed in OSHA rules and specifications than doctors will. Doctors will have medical knowledge and an overall understanding of how different elements directly relate to health and wellness. For instance, Doctors are trained in working with disease, both theoretical and practical. OSHA specialists will know the rules and regulations regarding working with diseases. These regulations are ultimately based on interpretations of science and studies; the knowledge trickling down from medical professionals and experts in their respective fields. And while any decent teacher can excel at teaching their curriculum, that doesn’t make them an expert in that field.
Dr. Fauci & Surgeon General Against Masks?
The next point brought up in this video is that Dr. Fauci (director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases in the US, and the face of the US Coronavirus Task Force) and the US Surgeon General both went on record early on telling people not to wear masks.
Again, this is a misrepresentation of a true thing. Dr. Fauci was speaking about masks in terms of their ability to prevent infection for the person wearing them and expressed concern that people are not used to wearing masks and could be more likely to fiddle with them, touch their faces more and potentially cause more infections. Since the point where Dr. Fauci said that however (March 8th), new data has shown that wearing masks can have a positive impact on preventing respiratory droplets from spreading from the person wearing the mask. So even though many masks are not very effective for the wearer, mask-wearing can still serve an overall beneficial role in our hierarchy of protections. Dr. Fauci of course has been recommending wearing masks when you can’t social distance for quite some time now, although, he did not recommend masks for the general public until after the PPE shortage had begun to be resolved.
Similarly, with the Surgeon General, his statement specifically was “We do not recommend that people wear a mask as a protective mechanism”, and this statement was made in March of this year. In April, when the CDC updated its guidelines to recommend wearing masks in public, the Surgeon General adjusted his recommendation with the latest science.
When Dealing with Infectious Disease, These are Not the Masks You Wear
When asked about what led to her getting involved in the mask debate, Kristen spoke at length about her concerns over mask ratings and viral micron sizes. Here is a quote from the interview:
“When you’re dealing with infectious disease patients, these (referring to homemade cloth masks) are not the masks that you wear. Even N95s are not fully rated to protect against a virus. These micron sizes again they’re not rated by the national institute of occupational safety and health. They’re not approved for this use.”
In a hospital or similar environment, her above comments make a lot of sense. When you know you are dealing with confirmed infections, or even just probable cases of infection, workplace and health standards have strict guidelines that must be adhered to. But in situations where you are dealing with a general public, where a small but significant unknown percentage are infected and shedding the virus, but may even be asymptomatic, and outfitting everyone with N95 or higher rated PPE is impractical and unfeasible, then you need to consider triage-like protocols. Where the higher-rated PPE goes to those most at risk, and most essential. But that doesn’t mean that the general public should do nothing and wait to get sick.
Increase Your Viral Load
Kristen then goes on to express concern about the lack of mask training which could lead to possible cross-contamination with the touching or adjusting of masks. She also said that without training people will wear masks even after they are soiled. She remarked “You re-inhale your exhausted gaseous waste and you can increase your viral load” “You will be sicker longer”.
Early on in the pandemic, several people expressed concerns about the lack of training on mask etiquette (including the author of this post) and how it could lead to potential infection. In the months that followed, however, no cases of any type of fomite transmission have been confirmed, and the biggest mask etiquette problem we are facing seems to be people wearing masks under their noses. Concerning Kristen’s claim about increasing your viral load by wearing a mask, this is entirely false. The SARS-CoV-2 virus leads to COVID-19 (the disease). If you have COVID-19 and are exposed to SARS-CoV-2 again, you can not get “double COVID-19”. This is why you don’t need to use a different toothbrush every night if you test positive for the virus. There is some speculation currently about the amount of initial viral load possibly affecting how serious your symptoms are when you become sick (which is actually an argument in favour of masks even as a personal protective measure), but that is still unconfirmed and not the same thing as what Kristen is suggesting.
CO2 Buildup Under Masks
Next, the interviewer shows a video of his son wearing a KN95 mask for a few minutes, and a CO2 tester is placed inside the mask to monitor the levels within. Very quickly the readings go off the scale in excess of 10,000 ppm, well above the point of >5000 ppm where oxygen deprivation and toxicity can occur. The two OSHA experts confirmed for the interviewer that the test was done correctly, and mentioned that there are existing studies that show oxygen levels can drop by 20% for people wearing masks.
There is a big issue here that should be immediately clear. If the CO2 levels measured by the machine were indicative of the air being breathed by the boy wearing the mask, he would have been experiencing distress by the end of the video. Indeed, every mask wearer both professional and general public alike would be in extreme distress almost immediately after putting a mask on. People would be passing out or dying. What the interviewer didn’t understand, and the OSHA specialists neglected to mention, is that air (including oxygen) travels through the mask when the person inhales. This is because KN95 (and N95) masks filter particles as small as 0.3 microns in size, but oxygen is well below that size at only 0.0005 microns. So there is actually no risk of hypoxia from most masks. Some non-medical masks may be made from less breathable materials though, and if you encounter a mask you find difficult to breathe through, please discontinue using it and switch to a mask you are more comfortable in.
As for the claim that oxygen levels can drop 20% when wearing a mask, we were unable to find any data to corroborate the statement (perhaps they were not studies on N95 masks, but something more industrial?). We did find several tests that showed oxygen levels are not affected by mask-wearing at all though. In fact, even one of the studies mentioned later in this interview included data that reinforces oxygen levels in mask wearing doctors staying within the normal 95-100% levels.
Masks Cause Pulmonary Distress
Next Tammy began to speak about how wearing a mask changes a person’s way they breathe, requiring more force while both inhaling and exhaling to get the oxygen we need. She mentions that OSHA requires medical evaluations for employees who need to regularly wear masks, to make sure they can tolerate the pulmonary strain. She also says that people have had heart attacks while wearing masks, due to the taxing of the cardio-pulmonary system it causes.
In a professional work environment where masks are necessary for the job, it makes sense to require these kinds of tests. People who suffer from Pulmonary Hypertension are likely to be unable to wear masks or wear them for prolonged periods of time due to persistent reduced blood/oxygen levels. If untreated this condition can lead to death. But at 500-1000 new cases diagnosed per year worldwide, it’s also a very rate condition. Those suffering from it are not expected to wear masks, and exemption cards are available when necessary. Luckily, if a person finds that they are having shortness of breath exacerbated by wearing a mask, they are more likely to seek diagnoses and treatment.
Director of OSHA
Tammy then brought up her concerns about OSHA not enforcing testing requirements for non-medical masks and admitted that in her sole as safety consultant she recommended construction crews not wear masks when working on-site. She also shared that she expressed her concerns about oxygen deprivation caused by masks with the director of OSHA. His response according to her was “Tammy, you are never going to get me to believe that”.
From a pragmatic viewpoint, OSHA isn’t able to enforce rules on non-medical masks because there are no rules to enforce. There is no set standard non-medical mask, and any attempt to make even a set of general guidelines would require a lot of time and testing that just hasn’t been possible so far. Tammy here is trying to point to the most extreme, rare, outlier situations and use them to disregard a practical and temporary solution that will work for risk reduction for the vast majority of people. The Director of OSHA sounds like they are doing a good job.
How are there Outbreaks in Places Where Masks are Worn?
Kristen then brought up parts of Asia and their mask-wearing culture, and argued that if non-medical masks worked, why are there outbreaks in places with near-universal mask usage?
This is a great question, and it’s been asked about places in Asia, it’s been asked about outbreaks at local hospitals and care homes and more. The answer to this question is also very simple. Masks are not a be-all and end-all solution. They are a part of the hierarchy of protection and are considered the least effective method to prevent COVID-19 transmission.
The expectation isn’t that mask-wearing will reduce the risk of transmission to 0%, the expectation is that it will make a positive difference. It is a part of the solution, and a tool we use to help prevent our hospitals from becoming overtaxed. So despite best efforts, outbreaks will happen, but that doesn’t mean we should do nothing to try and prevent them.
Where is OSHA?
The Interviewer then spoke up and asked where OSHA is in all of this. He referred to OSHA as a watchdog to ensure that everyone who wears a mask is safe, and then mentioned his son and the high CO2 levels again. He went on to say: “I haven’t seen anyone on CNN, anyone on MSNBC, where’s OSHA?” “Someone want to explain to me, from OSHA, how this is safe? Where are they?”. Tammy responded that she would like to know as well and that she and Kristen have been “screaming it loudly” and then mentions that her business is being audited by OSHA now and that both her and Kristen expect to lose their OSHA credentials.
In this situation, we already have a very good idea of where OSHA is. OSHA is currently investigating why 2 of their specialists are acting against public health, against safety, and one of them is actively and publicly admitting to recommending unsafe practices, in her capacity as a safety consultant, while claiming to represent them.
They’re Creating a Cure That’s Worse Than the Disease
Tammy then called out OSHA higher up’s and said that they know they are creating a cure that is worse than the disease. She continues to claim that masks cause oxygen deprivation, and suggests long term health issues will follow.
We already know that for the vast majority of people, there will be no issues with oxygen deprivation while wearing a mask (see previous links for data). In the interest of checking our own possible blind-spot, we investigated to see if we could find any data showing death or long-term harm caused by mask-wearing in the general public. Not surprisingly, we could not find any data that corroborated Tammy’s claims. We did find this funny satirical article though.
(note: Tammy also shows screenshots from several studies that show the negative effects of oxygen deprivation. We are not including them because there is no oxygen deprivation to cause those problems, so they are not relevant to this post)
Amazon Workers Disposable
A recorded conversation between an OSHA employee and an Amazon worker, where the OSHA employee says that Amazon considers their workers to be disposable as there are many people always available to replace them. They go on to say that the worker must either wear a mask or produce a doctor’s note that they can’t, or else they will be replaced.
This conversation is played off as a big reveal of weaponizing OSHA to force mask-wearing. However, if the big concern that Tammy and Kristen have is that people are being forced to wear masks when it’s not safe, a doctor will be able to easily test a person’s blood/oxygen levels and give them a note of exemption. Amazon considering their workers to be disposable is also not new information.
The Breaking Story!
Tammy then revealed that she and Kristen had come across some big news that they were going to break in this interview. An Assistant Area Director of OSHA, named Erin Sanchez, wrote his thesis on the filtration efficiency of surgical masks. Tammy then proceeded to share snippets of the thesis that she believed to be shocking and eye opening:
Surgical masks are not designed to protect health care workers from airborne
particulates and will not provide as much protection as N-95 respirators. Smaller
particulates are less effectively filtered by most surgical masks. In addition to relatively
poor filtration efficiency, these masks permit leakage around the edges upon inhalation,
and they cannot be fit tested. For healthcare workers dealing with patients ill with
infectious agents like the Swine Flu (H1N1 influenza virus), surgical masks have been
recommended by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as a last resort,
when no National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) approved
respirator is available. Using surgical masks as a form of personal protective equipment
(PPE) may lead to adverse health effects.
Above we have provided the unedited text from the thesis (see the whole thing here), with the cutout sections coloured in orange, and a very relevant part that had been cut out, formatted in bold. When read in context, this text tells us that surgical masks are not designed to protect the wearer from a viral infection, and that when dealing with infectious diseases they should only be used as a last resort (like if there is a shortage of N95’s), and that using just a surgical mask in these situations could result in infection. Taking the last line out of context is especially terrible. Furthermore, this thesis is only considering masks in terms of their ability to protect healthcare workers from infection, it is not studying them for their ability to block respiratory droplets from being spread by the mask-wearer.
Study vs Mask Efficacy
Next up Kristen shows several screencaps from a study that are meant to expose the ineffectiveness of masks as a protective method against viruses.
This study is a randomized trial of cloth masks compared to medical masks, which was done in Vietnam. There are 3 wings to the trial, the medical masks “all the time” wing, the cloth masks “all the time” wing, and the control wing. The control wing, for ethics reasons, was also using medical masks, but only during situations where the hospital workers would normally be wearing medical masks (i.e. the points when the worker is considered at risk of infection). As such, it should come as no surprise that the cloth mask wing under-performed vs both the medical mask wing and the control wing (which was also a medical mask wing). Furthermore, this study suffered from significant compliance issues, with under 60% compliance of wearing the mask for 70% of their shift. Because of these limitations, we can not say how the cloth masks fared as a protective means compared to not wearing a mask. Although we already know that cloth masks are much more effective in preventing the expiration of respiratory droplets than protecting against them.
This entire video interview revolves around a few key pillars, without which the entire conspiracy theory falls apart:
- That you completely ignore masks blocking respiratory droplets from the wearer as an effective method of transmission reduction.
- That you ignore the scientific consensus that tells us wearing a mask does not negatively impact blood/oxygen levels.
- That you do not look up and actually read the documents they reference.
Conspiracy theories are dangerous, go against public health, and could cause lasting harm here in BC and across the world. Please do not support the people that make these easily debunkable claims.
That’s all for now, stay safe everyone!