A doctor in the United Kingdom decided to prove a point about masks after seeing some questionable claims that they drop a wearer’s oxygen levels being shared on social media.
Dr. Tom Lawton works in the intensive care unit at the Bradford Royal Infirmary. He has cared for many patients who have been diagnosed with COVID-19, which he says has been a sobering task.
“I look after patients with COVID-19 and I am very keen not to have to do much of that again,” Lawton said. “It’s been very big and very stressful.”
“It’s been weird, the coronavirus crisis, because it has enabled people to see science evolving in the real world,” Lawton said. “And that has come across badly in some cases because people have seen scientists disagreeing.”
“It’s what scientists do,” he continued. “But generally speaking, in most cases, there’s a consensus that’s emerged over years where we’re used to seeing, ‘this is the science,’ and we don’t like the idea of disagreements, and masks have been a disagreement.”
Lawton started to ponder what would be a good message to pass on not only to his patients, but to the larger community about measures that they can take to help slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.
“I started getting very interested in what can we do to try to prevent a second wave, more outbreaks, things like that, and one of those things is masks,” he said.
He focused his attention on the widespread misinformation on social media claiming masks drop an individual's oxygen levels. While a person’s individual situation may vary, larger research has indicated that one’s oxygen levels will remain the same, regardless of whether they’re wearing a mask.
Lawton referenced a study done at Duke University that tested 14 different kinds of face coverings and how effective they were at slowing the spread of COVID-19.
“They’ve shown that masks of various different types protect against droplets coming out of somebody who has COVID, and we know that people who don’t even know that they have COVID can spread it,” he said.
“I thought, well, I know the physiology, I work in intensive care, it’s a very physiology-based specialty, I know that it’s entirely safe to wear a mask, I know that it’s not going to drop your oxygen levels, how can I demonstrate it?” he asked.
An avid tri-athlete, Lawton hasn’t been able to participate in as many athletic events as he would like due to the pandemic.
So on July 20, he set out on his daily run from his home to work while wearing a cloth mask and carrying an oxygen meter in his pocket.
He said he ran a total of about 22-and-a-half miles from home to work and back home again, checking his oxygen level every 20 to 30 minutes.
Lawton said his oxygen levels remained normal, despite running, sweating and wearing a mask.
“Wearing a mask the whole time, I didn’t take it off to eat, drink,” Lawton recalled. “Oxygen saturations are normal if they’re over 95% and mine were at 98% every single time I checked.”
“What I was trying to reassure is the people who want to go indoors where masks are being suggested, people can feel safe doing it,” Lawton said.
Lawton shared a video of his run on social media. Comments he got on social media regarding the video were mostly supportive, but Lawton said rumors started about him after his story gained popularity, which he finds mostly humorous.
He said people were “posting things about how I wasn’t a doctor, I was a professional tri-athlete, which I quite liked, actually,” he said with a smirk. “Brought in by the government to encourage compliance with the masks, which are some kind of mind-control device.”
He hopes his message will stick with those who are concerned about their physical and mental health when it comes to wearing a mask.
“I appreciate that there are people who can’t wear masks for good reasons, often invisible reasons like anxiety, PTSD, that kind of thing,” he continued. “And there are people who won’t wear masks and will find any reason they can, not to wear one and they’re kind of anti-maskers.”
“I’m not going to convince them, but the people I was thinking of were the people who would like to wear a mask, who would like to do their bit and are scared because they are scared of this misinformation. Hopefully, I’ve reassured them,” he said.
In addition to his running efforts, the doctor decided it would also be beneficial to raise money for food banks.
His GoFundMe page overshot its goal of 500 pounds, which is a little over $650. As of Aug. 11, the GoFundMe had raised over 3,660 pounds, which is around $4,770.
Even after his run, Lawton wants to remind the public that masks still only go so far in helping to prevent COVID-19 spread.
“My mask protects you, your masks protects me and everybody else,” Lawton stressed. “Unfortunately, the other message is there isn’t a magic bullet.”
He encourages everyone to continue to social distance, isolate if necessary and wear masks indoors.