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We live in a very bipolar society and one of the most obvious examples of this is the tenacity of masking. The unfortunate truth is that an aerosolized virus particle is so small that the only sure way to prevent an encounter with it is with your own self-contained breathing apparatus. How many scuba suits are you seeing on the streets of New York? Can a surgical mask stop a particle or two? Well, it is certainly possible in the same way that fishnet stockings may prevent some sunburn but not what anyone would call overall effective. Early on there were multiple articles exaggerating the necessity of public masking, none of them particularly convincing or well done but they danced around the truth and pushed their preconceived notions in the name of public health.
The reality is very few wear masks of any quality, and nobody is wearing them properly. Even in healthcare settings where a fresh N-95 may be handed out daily most opt for the regular mask so they can breathe easier. I have seen people in public however pick one off the ground and put it on to enter their doctor’s office, one of the last places where they are still mandated around here. Most of the time I consider masks to be ineffective and silly but not harmful for adults. Children on the other hand are another story and government actions have been crimes against the speech and societal development of our future generation.
Prior to covid, it was commonly known that oxygen masks in young children could cause rebreathing resulting in elevated carbon dioxide. This was such a concern that redesigned masks to limit rebreathing and improve oxygen efficiency would be brought to the market. It appears to be a success and is called an OxyMask. Proper respiration is essential to human health and beneath all of this is the subtle acid-base chemistry constantly maintained by our breathing. Inhaled carbon dioxide mixes with water in our bodies to produce carbonic acid. This simple and reversible chemical reaction is one of the ways our bodies maintain their pH balance. If you have not seen it, The Andromeda Strain (1971) is an excellent film where this concept plays a critical role in the story, it is based on the Michael Crichton book of the same name from 1969 so not exactly new science.
Last summer amid our muzzle the children to protect the adults debate a German article was published in JAMA Pediatrics examining if there was any risk of rebreathing with nose and mouth coverings in children. It was quickly retracted though with the following vague statement.
“Given fundamental concerns about the study methodology, uncertainty regarding the validity of the findings and conclusions, and the potential public health implications, the editors have retracted this Research Letter.”
This raises the question that if the study methodology was so bad why was it ever accepted and published in the first place? There does appear to be some back and forth between the authors and the editor because the retraction clearly states that the authors were invited to respond to these concerns but were unable to provide sufficiently convincing evidence. I have the suspicion that if the author’s conclusions were different then the methodology would not have been suspect. Article and retraction links are below.
https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamapediatrics/fullarticle/2781743 (FULL ARTICLE)
The lead author of the study Dr. Harald Walach did respond to a request for comment, and he believes the retraction to be unjustified and has since republished it in another journal where it has undergone three rounds of triple-peer review. That article in its entirety can be found at the link below. The editors who retracted the article have chosen not to respond to my request for comment.
The article concludes that masking increased the carbon dioxide content in inhaled air upward of 13,000 PPM (parts per million). 2000 PPM is considered the acceptable limit and 1000 PPM is normal for air in enclosed rooms. The most troubling part of this is that the experiment used a brief time interval to achieve these results meanwhile in the real-world children are wearing these masks for a much longer period and sometimes even during physical exertion.
The effects of environmental exposure to carbon dioxide have been a real topic of investigation in certain professions. This exposure can be commonplace for miners, astronauts, and submariners. The data from these appears to be mixed with some suggesting that it could have negative impacts upon cognition, they do all seem to agree that further research is warranted. Extra credit for the conspiracy theorists out there we also have an animal study that concludes carbon dioxide is a robust fear-inducing stimulus that discourages exploration in mice.
Jacob Hyatt Pharm D.
Father of three, Husband, Pharmacist, Realtor, Landlord, Independent Health, and Medicine Reporter