Checking the Checkers

An article that I posted in
Conscious Conversation and other FB groups has been ‘fact checked’ and been marked ‘false information’ by the checkers.

While the article has not been censored a notice intended to dissuade people from viewing it now masks the link. For those who have not seen the article here is the link:

https://docs4opendebate.be/en/open-letter/

The basis for labeling this comprehensive article false, an open letter from medical professionals in Belgium, is a single claim that the Fact Checkers summarise as:

“Wearing face masks can cause carbon dioxide toxicity; can weaken immune system”

They assess this as incorrect, arguing that:

“Face mask filters are small enough to keep out infectious droplets containing viruses, but gas molecules such as carbon dioxide and oxygen can still pass through freely. Healthcare workers who wear masks for long periods of time do not demonstrate significant impairment in work performance, as would be the case if masks did cause hypercapnia.”

and that:

“There is no scientific evidence supporting the claim that the use of face masks weakens the immune system.”

The full review can be seen here:

https://healthfeedback.org/claimreview/wearing-face-masks-does-not-cause-hypercapnia-or-affect-the-immune-system/

The review challenges what the article contends about the effectiveness of facemasks and the side effects of wearing facemasks. I decided take the time to review the review, challenge the challenge and fact check the fact checkers. I hope that at least a fe people will take the time to read what I’ve written.

It actually is important.

1. On the Effectiveness of Masks:

The Belgian Doctors Letter argues:

“Oral masks belong in contexts where contacts with proven at-risk groups or people with upper respiratory complaints take place, and in a medical context/hospital-retirement home setting. They reduce the risk of droplet infection by sneezing or coughing. Oral masks in healthy individuals are ineffective against the spread of viral infections.”

The Fact Checkers say:

“The claim does not specify which types of face masks it refers to. In healthcare settings, the two main types of masks used are surgical masks and N95 masks. N95 masks, named for their ability to filter out at least 95% of airborne particles, are also called respirators. Of the two, N95 masks have a tighter fit and thus provide more protection than surgical masks. The purpose of these masks is to reduce contact with infectious droplets (aerosols), which can be generated by someone who coughs or sneezes, and thereby minimize the risk of infection transmission. These masks have become of particular importance given the COVID-19 pandemic.”

There is no disagreement that masks are useful and effective in healthcare settings. The contention by the Belgian doctors that their use by healthy individuals in non-clinical settings is ineffective against the spread of of viral infections is not addressed in this paragraph.

The Fact Checkers note that there are two types of mask used in clinical settings, specifically surgical masks and N95 masks. In government guidance documents we read that surgical masks do “NOT provide the wearer with a reliable level of protection from inhaling smaller airborne particles and is not considered respiratory protection.” It is the N95 masks that filter out at least 95% of airborne particles. (see: https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/npptl/pdfs/UnderstandDifferenceInfographic-508.pdf)

The face coverings used by the public in non-clinical settings are not generally of N95 standard. The fact checkers may be considered somewhat disingenuous in conflating the effectiveness of N95 standard masks with masks used by the general public, which are likely to be of, or below, surgical mask standard.

2. On the Side Effects of Masks:

The Belgian Doctors Letter argues:

“Wearing a mask is not without side effects. Oxygen deficiency (headache, nausea, fatigue, loss of concentration) occurs fairly quickly, an effect similar to altitude sickness. Every day we now see patients complaining of headaches, sinus problems, respiratory problems and hyperventilation due to wearing masks. In addition, the accumulated CO2 leads to a toxic acidification of the organism which affects our immunity. Some experts even warn of an increased transmission of the virus in case of inappropriate use of the mask.

“Our Labour Code (Codex 6) refers to a CO2 content (ventilation in workplaces) of 900 ppm, maximum 1200 ppm in special circumstances. After wearing a mask for one minute, this toxic limit is considerably exceeded to values that are three to four times higher than these maximum values. Anyone who wears a mask is therefore in an extreme poorly ventilated room.”

The Fact Checkers say:

“While it is true that hypercapnia can be life-threatening, the claim that it can be caused by wearing face masks, either surgical masks or respirators, is unsupported and runs contrary to existing evidence. The masks act as a barrier to keep out aerosols, but the materials used are still porous enough to allow gas molecules like carbon dioxide and oxygen to pass through, which are many times smaller than viruses. The size of a carbon dioxide molecule is estimated at about 230 picometers. In contrast, SARS-CoV-2, the causative agent for COVID-19, is about 60 to 140 nanometers[1], which is about 260 to 600 times larger.”

and that:

“The claim is also clearly contradicted by empirical evidence. Healthcare workers wear both types of masks for long hours at work without reported impacts to their work performance. Hypercapnia causes symptoms such as dizziness, confusion, and loss of consciousness, which would have occurred had they been affected by CO2 toxicity.”

But in the letter the Belgian Doctors note that:

“Hospitals have a sterile environment in their operating rooms where staff wear masks and there is precise regulation of humidity / temperature with appropriately monitored oxygen flow to compensate for this, thus meeting strict safety standards.”

Thus neither the masks worn in clinical settings not the conditions in which they are typically worn are comparable with the non-clinical wearing of masks.The Belgian Doctors’ letter also contends that

“some experts even warn of an increased transmission of the virus in case of inappropriate use of the mask.”

This is not contested by the Fact Checkers in fact the Checkers note that

“the [US] CDC does caution that … those who decide to use a mask should also exercise caution when removing the mask, as infectious aerosols may potentially contaminate the external and internal surfaces. The U.S. CDC has advised that cloth masks should be regularly washed, and that individuals should wash their hands and avoid touching their eyes, nose and mouth after removing their mask.”

This is consistent with the advice given in March this year, six months ago, by the UK government and top doctors who warned that members of the public could be putting themselves more at risk from contracting coronavirus by wearing face masks:

Jenny Harries, deputy chief medical officer, said the masks could “actually trap the virus” and cause the person wearing it to breathe it in.

“For the average member of the public walking down a street, it is not a good idea” to wear a face mask in the hope of preventing infection, she added.

Source: https://www.independent.co.uk/news/health/coronavirus-news-face-masks-increase-risk-infection-doctor-jenny-harries-a9396811.html



3. Conclusion:

The conclusion of the Fact Checkers is that

“Further large-scale studies are required to verify the effect of wearing a mask for a longer period …. Until these studies are available, making such claims without supporting scientific evidence is hazardous and dangerous, especially in this very historical moment.”

It may be correct that further large-scale studies are required but given that decisions have been made NOW to mandate the wearing of masks in non-clinical contexts it is surely proper that the implications of wearing such coverings should be discussed in terms of their efficacy, their side effects, their standards and the proper protocols for their use.

It is hazardous and dangerous, especially in this very historical moment, not to have that discussion.

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