Twitter | @LawtonTri

Doctor Runs 22 Miles In A Mask To Show It Doesn't Affect Oxygen Levels

Ryan Ford 31 Jul 2020

As an ICU doctor at U.K.'s Bradford Royal Infirmary, Tom Lawton has seen the worst that COVID-19 has to offer.

He understandably wants to see as few people in his unit as possible, and his experience tells him that there are only so many ways to make that happen: "we need to socially distance, wash hands, test, trace and isolate, and to wear masks," he wrote in Newsweek.

Unfortunately, doctors like Lawton aren't fighting just a disease; they're also fighting misinformation.

While there's no shortage of misinformation floating around about a disease that experts still haven't completely figured out, masks remain one of the biggest points of contention.

Twitter | @LawtonTri

"[It] was with disappointment, but not surprise, that I started to see the misinformation coming out: masks are dangerous, they drop your oxygen levels, or claims they're part of a government control scheme," Lawton wrote. "The final straw for me was seeing a post on Twitter 'proving' with an oxygen sats meter that blood oxygen levels became low even sitting at a desk with a mask on."

So, he decided to fight back with some information of his own, using science.

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Lawton settled on going for a run in a cloth mask, as U.K. guidelines recommend cloth mask use by the public.

In his spare time, Lawton is also a triathlete, but he'd had to give it up during the height of the pandemic because he was just too busy. However, he said that, when running at a medium pace, he "can use enough oxygen for at least ten resting people, so I thought showing this by running in a mask might reassure people—as well as being an excuse to start training again."

His goal? A paltry 22 miles, eight before work and 14 after, all with regular readings from an oxygen saturation meter along the way.

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On the first part of his journey, Lawton says that his oxygen levels didn't drop below 98% "even after the first half hour when the combination of humidity and respiratory secretions transformed my mask into an unpleasant wet slap with each breath."

He said that he did get a few odd looks, speculating that others might have thought him a germaphobe or unduly paranoid, but also that it could have been the "nana's curtains" look of his mask. But he kept his mask on the whole time, never drinking or snacking, and his oxygen levels never put him in any danger.

"This may be a good time to point out that I've never actually run in a mask - I just trust my understanding of physiology at submaximal exercise rates," he added on Twitter.

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The longer leg of his journey, the 14-mile trip, also failed to drop Lawton's oxygen levels to anything approaching dangerous levels.

Although it was warmer on his evening run, again, Lawton's levels remained above 98% every time he checked.

Lawton also took the opportunity to use his runs as a fundraiser for the local food bank, which he noted had "seen a massive increase in demand due to this horrendous virus." Lawton's GoFundMe has raised £3,501 (about $4,585 USD) as of this writing.

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Whether his debunking videos will have the desired effect or not remains to be seen.

"I know masks can be uncomfortable when you're not used to them. They can provoke anxiety—even panic—and when you start to breathe fast they can make breathing feel harder and limit performance if you try to exercise hard," Lawton said.

However, he's hoping that his demonstration was helpful all the same. "Despite the enormous changes people have been asked to make to their lives there is clearly still [the] appetite to do the "right thing" where government advice is clear on the topic," he wrote in Newsweek. "Masks play one small part of that—my mask protects you, your mask protects me—and if even one frightened person is reassured by my run, I will feel I have done my bit."

h/t: Newsweek

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