When I first waded into the latest mask conspiracy theory, I was literally wading.
About a month ago, I was in my local pool when I overheard a middle-aged woman in the next lane whisper it to her friend, in the way you vaguely assert something that you’re pretty sure is true but don’t fully understand. “Masks don’t even do anything,” she said. “In fact, they can make you sicker. Because you’re breathing in all the ... stuff ... you breathe out.”
“OK Boomer,” I thought. I dismissed her as a random neighborhood conspiracist and swam my laps.
But then I started to see this false notion appear more frequently on Facebook. It wasn’t the typical argument anti-maskers use, that mask mandates infringe on people’s freedoms. It was that the masks themselves are causing illness. The horror of the idea was apparent even to me: the feds, in their hall-monitor stupidity, forcing you to do something that’s actually bad for you.
Most recently, this surfaced in the form of “copypasta”—a post copied and pasted by many people onto social media, rather than shared as a link—from a purported “OSHA Inspector.” “I have worked in a clean room for 23 years and 10 years on submarines before that,” it reads. The inspector, supposedly from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, goes on to debunk each type of mask. N95s won’t “filter your air on the way out,” so they don’t reduce the risk of catching COVID-19 from someone who has it. Surgical masks, the post claims, are rendered useless by the moisture from your breath and the “amount of particles” on them. Cloth masks, meanwhile, trap carbon dioxide, risking the health of the wearer. “I know, facts suck,” it concludes. “They throw a wrench into the perfectly (seeming) packaged pill you are willingly swallowing.”