Dispatch writer and fact checker Khaya Himmelman, pictured. She is a graduate of Columbia Journalism School and Barnard College.

Dispatch Exonerates Mask Wearing, Ignores Evidence

  • Dispatch mishandled fact-check that involves a two-part claim, only addressing one of the two
  • Himmelman neglects basic investigation when debunking a Facebook claim
  • Mask wearing can cause hypoxia and bacterial pneumonia
  • Himmelman omits certain evidence that would at least partially vindicate the claim she calls false

OUR RATING: 4 = Major Negligence. MSNBC-level basic journalistic negligence

Indicted Outlet: Khaya Himmelman | The Dispatch | Link | Archive

The primary claim in this Dispatch fact check is that “mask-wearing does not cause bacterial pneumonia and hypoxia,” as a Facebook post claimed. However, an honest fact check of this issue will yield less definite results than Himmelman has presented. Ultimately, Himmelman demonstrates a shoddy investigation into the truth of this claim. Though this particular fact check is less egregious than others, it shows a level of negligence unacceptable in fact-checking. 

Major Violations:

  • Superficial Investigation
  • Unbalanced
  • Missing Context

Here’s what Khaya Himmelman said in the Dispatch:

A widely shared Facebook post is claiming that mask-wearing causes “pneumonia and hypoxia.” The full text reads as follows: “When you exhale your body is eliminating toxins and unhealthy bacteria. By wearing a mask the toxic matter is trapped on the fabric and you’re inhaling it back in, causing infections like bacterial pneumonia and hypoxia.”

This is a false statement. Mask-wearing does not cause bacterial pneumonia and hypoxia. 

These two different claims can be considered separately. First, does mask-wearing cause bacterial pneumonia? Himmelman’s fact check for this particular claim holds some water, though she still misses context that would at least partially vindicate the particular Facebook user she cites. 

Himmelman quotes Dr. Megan Conroy, a pulmonary and critical specialist and assistant professor at the Ohio State University College of Medicine, who said that “rebreathing your exhaled air is not a risk factor or a mechanism for the development of bacterial pneumonia.”

This was a very superficial investigation and without much more effort, research yields that at least one study from the University of New South Wales said that “widespread use of cloth masks by healthcare workers may actually put them at increased risk of respiratory illness and viral infections.” The operative word here is “cloth” masks, as averse to medical masks. This is a key difference, as we will also see in the second part of this claim that Himmelman leaves out. This is clearly an unbalanced presentation of the issue. There is some evidence that mask-wearing can cause viral infections if the mask is a cloth mask. Himmelman gives the Facebook user no benefit of the doubt in checking their claim. Approximately one-third of the face mask market is cloth masks that would be implicated here.

The second claim is that mask-wearing does not cause hypoxia. [1]

Himmelman fails to include context for this claim, as she does not distinguish between the different kinds of masks and how those differing kinds can affect breathing. Despite Conroy claiming there is absolutely no evidence, there is, actually, some evidence. If Himmelman had looked further, she might have found it, too. A study from the National Academies Press found that the difference between a cloth mask and other kinds of mask can be great. Furthermore: 

“The greater a mask’s breathing resistance, which is reflected in a higher Delta-P, the more difficult it is for users to wear it consistently, and the more likely they are to experience breathing difficulties when they do…almost all of the masks they tested would be expected to have breathing resistance within the range of commercial N95 respirators. One mask that used 16 layers of the handkerchief fabric, in order to increase filtration efficiency (63% efficiency with a Delta-P of 0.425”), had breathing resistance greater than that of commercial N95 respirators, which would cause great discomfort to many wearers and cause some to pass out.”

Another study done at the Institut für Anaesthesiologie der Technischen Universität München showed that the usage of a face mask leads to increased rebreathing of expelled carbon dioxide, significant increase in respiration, increased respiratory rate, and hyperventilation,  Increased heart rate, increase in Co2 in the blood, hypoxemia: which is an abnormal decrease in the partial pressure of oxygen in the arterial blood, a hypercapnia, which is an increase in the pressure of Co2 in the blood, general cognitive decline, and greater difficulty in psychomotor tasks.  

I reached out to cognitive scientist Mark Changizi, who has spent much time on Twitter debunking coronavirus myths. According to Changizi, masks inevitably affect breathing:

“The size of a Covid virus itself is small enough that the viral aerosols almost completely pass through, but are mostly jetted around the gaps. And they’re jetted around the gaps because the mask has more “friction” for airflow, so the air “prefers” to go out the gaps.That friction means the rate of exhalation and O2 intake and CO2 exhalation is modified. That they don’t see that there are physical pressure changes affecting flow is either a delusion for lying.” 

Either Himmelman took her sources word for it, or she ignored the fact that there is definitely evidence that mask wearing can cause hypoxia. 

Himmelman’s fact check, though it does make a partially true claim, misses half of the picture, thereby presenting a false indictment of one particular Facebook post. In any scientific claim, the goal is to present demonstrable evidence, not speak dogmatically. Himmelman’s sources are individuals who can be matched by other individuals making the opposite claim. As a result, Himmelman should hold herself to a higher standard in presenting the issue properly. 

OUR RATING: 4 = Major Negligence. MSNBC-level basic journalistic negligence


1 ] https://www.webmd.com/asthma/guide/hypoxia-hypoxemia

2 ] https://www.nap.edu/read/25776/chapter/1#3

3 ] https://mediatum.ub.tum.de/doc/602557/602557.pdf

4 ] https://twitter.com/MarkChangizi/status/1291018214261035011?s=20

5 ] https://link.springer.com/epdf/10.1007/s00392-020-01704-y?sharing_token=4AfWegbHOxk00hiHYtrplPe4RwlQNchNByi7wbcMAY4ZfoGR_ibmFHApWSw2JRb7yoFxeXbxgdwNA2TYmPtz8OVhsr-eLNmHTAFlu6bFbQl5DaVnEieqTZNVL58LC3cW5QirGJONSGqeFdIMNEhxS2AmFJPw2wAfRsgDXHh9EII%3D


Join the conversation

We have no tolerance for comments containing violence, racism, profanity, vulgarity, doxing, or discourteous behavior. Thank you for partnering with us to maintain fruitful conversation.


TGP FactCheck