Tim Noonan

Doctor debunks myths you may have heard about face masks

By Aley Davis, KSL TV | Posted - Jul. 31, 2020 at 7:37 p.m.

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PARK CITY — There is a lot of misinformation on the internet and social media these days about wearing masks during the pandemic. KSL TV Health Specialist Aley Davis sat down with a doctor to debunk myths you may have seen going around.

One 61-year-old Park City man wishes he had more protection from COVID-19 earlier on.

Tim Noonan loves to be active. "Weight lift, downhill cross country skiing, mountain bike, trail run," he describes as things he enjoys doing.

When Noonan traveled for work last February, no one was yet wearing masks in public. He said he was in good health and wasn’t on any medications. But to his surprise, Noonan got the coronavirus later in March.

It started with a low-grade fever, but after a few days his condition worsened and he started experiencing a shortness of breath.

"Like a 104 fever and my oxygen rate was low eighties," he said. Noonan went to Park City InstaCare, and then was quickly flown to Intermountain Medical Center and put on a ventilator.

"The next four weeks were a blur. I was pretty much in a medical coma the whole time," he said.

His case was complicated, with an additional pneumonia and acute respiratory distress syndrome diagnosis, and kidney failure.

"They had me trached up, I still have a trach in my neck," he explained.

Noonan arrived home on May 21 after spending a total of 95 days in the hospital, where he’d lost 40 pounds.

He said it’s a miracle he’s alive today. "I probably came close to death a couple of times in that the month of April while I was in a coma," he said.

Noonan said the experience changed his life and forced him to relearn everything. "I couldn't walk. I couldn't talk. I was on a feeding tube for two and a half months," he said.

Intermountain Healthcare's Dr. Mark Lewis says there is a lot of misinformation online about wearing a face mask now. But research is clear that wearing one can protect you and others.

Lewis recognizes it can be uncomfortable. "It's warm, it feels humid, you think that you're getting less gas flow than you actually are," Lewis explained.

But despite claims made online, Lewis says wearing a mask does not decrease your oxygen intake.

He said surgeons perform hourslong operations wearing a facial covering and experience no drop in their oxygen intake.

To prove his point, Lewis measured his own oxygen levels. "I was at the end of a long clinic day and working for more than eight hours with a mask on, so I was prone to fatigue," he said.

In addition to the mask he already was wearing, he put on an entire box of his own personal face masks.

"I was waiting to see what the magic number was where the oxygen level dropped and I got up to 30 masks, which was the entire box, (and) nothing changed," he said. His oxygen saturation levels remained the same.

Lewis also says wearing a cloth mask doesn't increase your carbon dioxide levels.

"When we breathe in, we're taking in oxygen, and then when we exhale, we're breathing out carbon dioxide," he explained. "So you can't have it both ways; the mask can't be so porous that it's letting in virus, but then so thick that it's not letting these gases back and forth."

He also said wearing a mask will not increase your risk of a bacterial infection, if the mask is washed regularly.

"I think people are feeling, sensing the humid air behind the mask, and they're worried that the bacteria and viruses are building up in there," he said.

But against that notion, Lewis said wearing a mask is not an environment conducive for infection. He does encourage people to be careful when taking a mask off, however, to avoid touching virus particles on the front of a mask.

"Bacteria are ubiquitous, they're everywhere. They're all over our skin, they're inside our bodies, they’re really arguably a part of us, no matter how hygenic we are," he explained, suggesting that won’t contribute to an infection.

Lewis says the reasons given for not wearing masks are simply myths.

While Lewis admits masks are not 100 percent effective, he says they are an extremely important part of a public health strategy to slow down the spread.

"We have to be vigilant, we can't lose our patience because what we don't want to have happen is there to be a surge in cases and for us to overwhelm our health care facilities," he said.

Lewis said there are rare cases in which people who have serious lung disease might struggle to wear a mask. He also reminds people to not overexert themselves while wearing one, but said simple tasks like grocery shopping are safe.

Today, Noonan has one message: "Mask up, social distance, and I wouldn't go anywhere that wasn't necessary."

"Why wouldn't you reduce your risk?" Noonan continued.

He's just grateful to be alive to spend more time with his two daughters. "This is a second chance in life and I get to make what I can of it," he said.

Noonan is still on oxygen today. "I'm not done yet. I have a long way to go," he said, but he is starting to become more active. He’s lifting weights, riding his stationary bike, and walked an entire mile last week.

He expressed deep gratitude for the nurses and doctors who took care of him for three months. "I received the most incredible care," he said. "They just saved my life."


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