Mask graphic contains a number of inaccuracies

17 July 2020
What was claimed

You cannot catch Covid-19 person to person.

Our verdict

This is incorrect. Like other coronaviruses, Covid-19 is spread via respiratory droplets from an infected person to an uninfected person.

What was claimed

You cannot catch Covid-19 from touching surfaces.

Our verdict

Incorrect. Respiratory droplets can land on surfaces and the virus in these droplets have been shown to remain viable for up to 72 hours on some surfaces.

What was claimed

Viruses are dead material expelled from healing cells. Everyone has thousands of viruses inside their body.

Our verdict

There is debate about whether viruses are technically alive. The human body does contain a number of viruses that don’t do harm. Covid-19 is caused by a virus that is potentially very harmful though.

What was claimed

Masks decrease oxygen intake, increase carbon dioxide intake, increase toxin intake, increase stress levels which directly impacts the immune system in a negative way making us more susceptible to illness.

Our verdict

Fabric and medical face masks should not affect breathing and the NHS says they are safe for anyone over the age of three who can manage them correctly. Certain types of masks called respirators can affect gas exchange, but can still be safely worn for several hours in a row in healthcare environments. There’s no evidence masks harm the immune system.

A graphic on Facebook has made a number of claims about how Covid-19 spreads. It says:

“You can not catch Covid-19 from person to person.

You can not catch Covid-19 from touching surfaces.

Viruses are dead material expelled from healing cells.

Everyone has thousands of viruses inside their body.”

Covid-19 definitely does spread person to person and via surfaces. Covid-19 is caused by a virus and is potentially dangerous, although it’s true that humans have plenty of harmless viruses in their bodies. 

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Covid-19 definitely spreads person to person

The virus that causes Covid-19, called SARS-CoV-2, does spread from person to person, through respiratory droplets released when an infected person sneezes, coughs, and talks. Close contact with an infected person is how the virus spreads.

We have evidence this is the case. Other coronaviruses that infect humans, such as SARS (of which there was an outbreak in 2002) and the common cold, also spread in this way

Social distancing measures which reduce the number of person-to-person interactions have been proven to slow the spread of the virus.

You can catch Covid-19 from touching surfaces

Covid-19 also spreads via surfaces. In general, other human coronaviruses (which we’ve had longer to study) survive on objects for up to five days. Studies into SARS-CoV-2 have shown it can survive for between 8 and 72 hours on a surface depending on the material and environment. 

Just touching a surface that is contaminated with the virus is not enough to become infected—the virus enters the body through membranes present in the nose, mouth, or eyes. The problem is that we touch these parts of ourselves all the time without noticing, which is why it’s so important that you wash your hands with soap and water often, especially outside of your own home.

What is a virus?

It’s unclear exactly what the graphic means when it claims that viruses are “dead material leaving healing cells”. 

There is some debate amongst scientists as to whether viruses are technically alive or not, because they need a host cell to replicate and can’t do so themselves. Some argue this means that they are not alive as they can’t reproduce unaided, but others disagree, saying that even though genetically they are very simple, they are still able to evolve.

When viruses replicate in host cells, they take over the cell’s mechanics to reproduce, and then leave. The host cell can’t really be said to be healing when that happens, even though it may not have died. Some cells do respond to viral infection by dying.

Do we have thousands of viruses inside our bodies?

It’s true that humans contain a number of viruses that don’t harm us, or are protecting the human body against bacteria. Many of these are bacteriophages—a type of virus that infects bacteria. This is not the same as being infected with a virus that can cause a potentially dangerous disease, like Covid-19.

Safety of masks

The text of the Facebook post also claims that masks decrease oxygen intake, increase carbon dioxide intake, increase toxin intake, and increase stress levels which negatively impacts the immune system. 

The kind of face masks normally used by members of the public do not pose a threat to most people. We could not find any evidence that cloth face coverings and medical (sometimes called surgical) face masks reduce oxygen levels or increase carbon dioxide levels in the body. 

The UK government says face coverings should not be worn by children under three, or those “who may find it difficult to manage them correctly”, for example “primary age children unassisted, or those with respiratory conditions”. 

Asthma UK says that for some people with asthma, wearing a face covering could “make it feel harder to breathe” and “so if [they] are finding it hard, then don’t wear one”.

The post we’re checking here could be referring to a specific type of mask, called an N95 respirator, which is used in healthcare settings in the US. These are also approved for use in the UK and the equivalent mask usually used here is called the FFP2. These types of masks can be worn for several hours in a row, but some research has shown that they can affect gas exchange.

It’s true that face masks of all types can make some people feel claustrophobic. There’s no evidence that masks weaken the immune system though.

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