The claim that a mask will cause a build-up of carbon dioxide, or CO2, behind your mask while breathing in and out while wearing it is false. Alarmists that feel that wearing a mask is somehow infringing on their rights (just like wearing a seatbelt or stopping at stop signs are both the height of tyranny, /s), or believe that they could die by wearing such restrictive masks are wrong. This is not true, and the size of things is the proof. Let’s break down some simple science.
The claim is easy enough to debunk—notwithstanding the fact that thousands of surgeons wear one every day for multiple hours while conducting complex, arduous and life-saving procedures. Oxygen, the life-giving gas we breath in, and carbon dioxide, the waste gas that we exhale, are very, made up of very small molecules. The sizes of a molecule of oxygen or carbon dioxide are approximately 152 pm and 116 pm, respectively. What’s a pm? It’s picometer, which is one millionth of a micron (also known as a micrometer). A human hair is about 150 microns wide, so yes, a molecule of gas is extremely small, even compared to a virus, which range from 0.06 to 0.14 microns.
“[Masks do] not impede oxygen flow and [do] not increase your carbon dioxide levels. Not at all,” says Jamie Rutland, M.D., a pulmonary and critical care physician who’s a national spokesperson for the American Lung Association and an assistant clinical professor of internal medicine at the University of California, Riverside School of Medicine. The bottom line is oxygen and carbon dioxide are such small molecules, they can easily fit through the pores of the mask, which means CO2 levels won’t increase in the space under the mask and harm or kill you.
The textile that makes up an N95 mask, the ones that are recommended for use by medical professionals when around people infected with Covid-19, which is around 0.12 microns in diameter, have to meet tolerances that block 95 percent of particles with a diameter of 0.3 microns. Hmm, you’re probably saying at this point… the virus is 0.12 microns, which is smaller than 0.3! Gotcha, the virus can easily slip through, so there’s no reason to even wear them and make me uncomfortable and stuffy and my skin around my mouth slightly overheated!
You’d be right if a solitary virus was placed on the mask in a lab setting, but in the real world, viruses don’t go flying around own their own, hopping from person to person. They don’t have wings or any way to move around by themselves, which is why coughing and sneezing is the main way they spread from person to person. The virus must be attached to something like a water droplet to even make it to your face, says Rutland. “It’s not like a virus is traveling in the air by itself, it’s usually surrounded by some kind of material that’s a certain size,” he says.
These liquid particles, droplets and smaller aerosols, are, at their smallest, about 1 micron in size. This is why N95 masks, and other cloth masks, are effective at slowing the spread of Covid-19, whether you are inhaling or exhaling, because any viruses must be bonded to water to make it anywhere near our faces.