A new form of copypasta circulating on Facebook attempted to push conspiracy theories concerning face coverings and the COVID-19 pandemic by invoking the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (generally referred to as OSHA) as its “source.”
The post does not mention a specific author. Instead it is listed as “copied from an OSHA certified friend.” The purported friend claims to be “OSHA 10 and 30 certified,” an apparent reference to workplace safety training courses the agency offers. However, the “friend” does not specify what type of course they allegedly took, or how these classes would qualify them to discuss issues related to the disease:
The most blatantly false segment in the text deals with cloth masks:
Today three people pointed to their masks as the walked by me entering Lowe’s. They said “ya gotta wear your mask BRO” I said very clearly “those masks don’t work bro, in fact they MAKE you sicker” the “pshh’d” me.
By now hopefully you all know CLOTH masks do not filter anything. You mean the American flag one my aunt made? Yes. The one with sunflowers that looks so cute? Yes. The bandanna, the cut up t-shirt, the scarf ALL of them offer NO FILTERING whatsoever. As you exhale you are ridding your lungs of contaminants and carbon dioxide. Cloth masks trap this carbon dioxide the best. It actually risks health. The moisture caught in these masks can become mildew ridden over night. Dry coughing, enhanced allergies, sore throat are all symptoms of a micro-mold in your mask.
Cloth masks are WORSE than none.
The CDC wants us to keep wearing masks. The masks don’t work.
For the record, OSHA does state on its website that cloth face coverings “will not protect the wearer against airborne transmissible infectious agents due to loose fit and lack of seal or inadequate filtration.” However, it does not state that wearing these types of masks is “worse” than not wearing any facial protection.
The “certified friend’s” claim has also been rebutted by not only the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (the CDC) but by other medical professionals as well.
According to a Mayo Clinic report published in May 2020, for example:
Asking everyone to wear cloth masks can help reduce the spread of the coronavirus by people who have COVID-19 but don’t realize it. And countries that required face masks, testing, isolation and social distancing early in the pandemic seem to have had some success slowing the spread of the virus.
A separate study published on June 12 2020 analyzing the spread of the disease in three regions — New York City, Italy, and Wuhan, China — from January to May 2020 also identified the use of facial masks as a component in reducing the spread of COVID-19:
Our analysis reveals that the difference with and without mandated face covering represents the determinant in shaping the pandemic trends in the three epicenters. This protective measure alone significantly reduced the number of infections, that is, by over 78,000 in Italy from April 6 to May 9 and over 66,000 in New York City from April 17 to May 9. Other mitigation measures, such as social distancing implemented in the United States, are insufficient by themselves in protecting the public. We conclude that wearing of face masks in public corresponds to the most effective means to prevent interhuman transmission, and this inexpensive practice, in conjunction with simultaneous social distancing, quarantine, and contact tracing, represents the most likely fighting opportunity to stop the COVID-19 pandemic.
Mario Molina, a co-recipient of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1995 and one of the paper’s authors, reaffirmed to Science Daily that the failure to account for the virus’s ability to spread through the air was a factor in its spread.
“Our study establishes very clearly that using a face mask is not only useful to prevent infected coughing droplets from reaching uninfected persons, but is also crucial for these uninfected persons to avoid breathing the minute atmospheric particles (aerosols) that infected people emit when talking and that can remain in the atmosphere tens of minutes and can travel tens of feet,” said Molina, who is a distinguished professor of both chemistry and biochemistry at the University of California, San Diego.
The meme’s claim that “asymptomatic transmission is NOT happening anyway” is also overstated; studies from both the CDC and Harvard University’s Global Health Institute have determined that people can “readily spread” the virus without exhibiting symptoms.
“In fact, some evidence suggest[s] that people may be most infectious in the days before they become symptomatic — that is, in the pre-symptomatic phase when they feel well, have no symptoms, but may be shedding substantial amounts of virus,” the institute said in a statement.
As PolitiFact reported, anti-vaccine disinformation purveyors seized on a statement by a specialist for the World Health Organization (WHO) calling asymptomatic transmission of the disease “very rare” during a press conference. The researcher, infectious disease epidemiologist Maria Van Kerkhove, subsequently walked the remark back during an online event.
“We do know that some people who are asymptomatic, or some people who don’t have symptoms, can transmit the virus on,” she said. “What I was referring to yesterday in the press conference were a very few studies, some two or three studies, that have been published that actually try to follow asymptomatic cases.” Despite her remarks, however, some WHO material remains online calling asymptomatic transmission of the disease “much less likely” than transmission from someone already exhibiting symptoms.
The meme also makes several claims related to the use of surgical masks:
The moisture from your breath combined with the clogged mask with render it “useless” IF you come in contact with Covid and your mask traps it You become a walking virus dispenser. Everytime you put your mask on you are breathing the germs from EVERYWHERE you went. They should be changed or thrown out every “20-30 minutes in a non sterile environment”
The surgical mask is not designed for the outside world and will not filter the virus upon inhaling through it. It’s filtration works on the exhale. (Like a vacuum bag it only works one way)
While OSHA’s website states that surgical masks “will not protect the wearer against airborne transmissible infectious agents due to loose fit and lack of seal or inadequate filtration,” the agency does consider them personal protective equipment (PPE) and states that employers must provide them for free to their workers. But OSHA does not mention a “20-30 minute” time limit for their use outside of sterile environments; it does recommend, though, that they “should be properly disposed of after use.”
The meme’s claims regarding the use of N95 masks — a type of respirator that multiple agencies have asked be reserved for medical professionals — also fail to appear on the OSHA website.
[They] are designed for CONTAMINATED environments. That means when you exhale through N95 the design is that you are exhaling into contamination. The exhale from P95 (ported) masks are vented to breath straight out without filtration. They don’t filter the air on the way out. They don’t need to.
Conclusion: if you’re in Stewart’s and the guy with Covid has P95 mask his covid breath is unfiltered being exhaled into Stewart’s (because it was designed for already contaminated environments, it’s not filtering your air on the way out)
Ported P95 blows the virus into the air from a contaminated person and N95 holes are larger than the coronavirus and does not block particles that small.
According to the CDC, “these respirators filter out at least 95% of very small (0.3 micron) particles. N95 FFRs are capable of filtering out all types of particles, including bacteria and viruses.”
We contacted OSHA seeking comment on the use of its name in the spread of the meme but did not hear back.
Another variant of the hoax spread online in July 2020, substituting OSHA with a document made up to look like a CDC memo:
Facebook posts featuring this bogus document, however, now carry an advisory noting that the claim has been debunked by the fact-checking site Lead Stories.
Another iteration of this type of scam surfaced in January 2023 in the wake of a medical incident that played out on live television in the U.S.
As The Daily Dot reported, a bogus Twitter account, “Dr. Benjamin Edelman,” appeared claiming to have given professional football player Damar Hamlin a vaccine against COVID-19 after Hamlin suffered cardiac arrest during a game:
Though the “Edelman” account was quickly deleted, the tweet fed into a wave of right-wing disinformation tying to blame the vaccine and subsequent booster shots for “sudden” incidents or deaths.
CNN reported that Hamlin was listed in critical condition in a Cincinnati hospital.
Updated July 16, 2020 9:48 a.m. PST: Updated with a new variant on the debunked claim.
Updated January 4 2023, 11:30 a.m. PST: Updated with information on a Twitter account posing as a medical professional to sow disinfomation about COVID-19 vaccines. — ag