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4 COVID-19 mask myths, debunked (& one that’s more complicated)

A single scroll through your social media outlet of choice and, chances are, you’ll come across lots of chatter about the coronavirus pandemic. From aunt Pam’s long-winded “OK, I never post things like this, but” diatribe on aerosols to your high school track friend’s snarky memes about masks, which of—if any—of this endless commentary is true? Lets’ find out. Here, four Covid myths that are anything but true, and one that had us scratching our head.

1. Myth: Wearing masks causes Legionnaires’ disease—Debunked

According to the CDC, Legionaries’ disease is “a type of severe pneumonia, [caused] by breathing in small droplets of water that contain Legionella.” Hmm. Lots of buzz words in that description—“pneumonia,” “droplets,”—that might have you subconsciously connecting the dots to Covid, but wearing masks to prevent the spread of Covid-19 really has nothing to do with Legionnaire’s disease. As Factcheck.org writes: “Legionnaires’ disease is caused by bacteria that festers mostly in warm, standing water, not in human saliva.” There are recent and valid concerns of Legionnaires’—unrelated to masks—due to people returning to facilities and buildings that have been left unmaintained. But masks and Legionnaires’? Nope. Not a thing.

2. Myth: If you’re not sick, you don’t need a mask—Debunked

Because of early confusion about masks, it’s no wonder so many of us are genuinely confused about when and why to wear them. So, let’s clear this up. You can be infected with coronavirus and show no symptoms. It could very possible that you are a carrier of coronavirus, and would you have no way of knowing it. Per the CDC: “Masks are recommended as a simple barrier to help prevent respiratory droplets from traveling into the air and onto other people when the person wearing the mask coughs, sneezes, talks, or raises their voice. This is called source control.” Wearing masks, whether you’re sick or not has been a proven tactic for lowering infection rates. In the words of Lady Gaga, “I might sound like a broken record, but wear a mask. It’s a sign of respect.”

3. Myth: If it’s not an N95, what’s the point?—Debunked

If only you could get your hands on some medical-grade PPE, right? Well, unless your work or circumstances puts in you at risk of contracting the virus, a cloth mask for most situations will do the trick. As we learned from myth #3, most masks aren’t designed to prevent you from getting sick, but they help everyone around you from potential infection.  The Cleveland Health Clinic writes: “The 2019 novel coronavirus is thought to mainly be spread through viral droplets that come out of people’s nose or mouth when they cough, sneeze or talk. Cloth masks act as a physical barrier to keep large droplets from spewing out into the air, where someone else could breathe them in and become infected.” Long story short: A cloth mask is a-OK for normal life. (Learn more about how to properly wear a face mask.)

4. Myth: Masks lead to carbon dioxide build-up—Debunked

You might have heard that when you exhale carbon dioxide, it can build up in your mask and make you sick. And, sure, while wearing a mask may take some getting used to, if you don’t have breathing problems and are over two years old, there no truth to this myth. The Mayo Clinic recommends that “If you feel uncomfortable in your mask, try to limit your talking and breathe through your nose. That will reduce the humidity level in your mask.”

5. Myth: Gaiters are worse than nothing—Semi-debunked

A recent Duke University study found that a person wearing a gaiter and speaking actually released more particles of saliva into the air than when the person wasn’t wearing anything. The internet’s viral response to the study was that gaiters are worse than nothing, apparently because of how tightly they fit across the face. But is it true? According to the study authors themselves, not conclusively. Dr. Martin Fischer, Associate Research Professor at the Department of Chemistry told the SF Gate: “We tested one mask, we just had that mask lying around. There are plenty of other gaiters out there, some that have thicker material. If you double them up, or fold them over—we haven’t tested that, but I’m convinced the results would be different, and likely better.” So, experts say wear something over your face to stop the spread of Covid-19. Logic says, maybe nix the gaiter and wear something else for the time being.

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