Masked run experiment

Christian County Headliner News Editor Rance Burger wearing an N95 face covering.

Dr. Robin Trotman, medical director of infection prevention at CoxHealth, is considered to be one of the state of Missouri’s top practicing medical experts when it comes to COVID-19.

He’s been consulted on several issues surrounding COVID-19 recently, including questions about face mask and face covering use by the general public.

I decided to test a claim he made in reference to the safety of covering one’s mouth and nose for prolonged periods of time.

“You will not get carbon monoxide poisoning, that is physiologically impossible. You’re not going to have carbon monoxide poisoning, you’re not going to become hypocarbic, you’re not going to have respiratory problems with most masks,” Trotman said.

Carbon dioxide, which mammals like humans exhale from their bodies every time they complete a breath cycle, has also been subject of rumors among people who oppose mask use.

Using myself as the test subject, I came up with a plan to put the carbon dioxide I exhale to the test against face masks. If I could wear a mask safely during times of heavy exertion with no ill side effects, I would stop worrying about CO2 and use a mask in public.

I am an avid runner. I decided to test whether or not I could safely wear masks during my daily runs.

I suppose the “control” part of the experiment would have been my Tuesday afternoon run. It was sunny and warm. I ran three miles in about 25 minutes, and I took a short walk for another quarter of a mile or so in order to cool down before I went home. During that walk, I hatched the plan for the rest of my experiment.

I would do three runs in three days, using a different type of mask each day. I usually run about three miles in 25-30 minutes each day. I didn’t feel like that was enough time, so I decided I would leave the mask on after each run. I wouldn’t be allowed to adjust or remove the mask until at least 60 minutes had passed from the time I put on the mask. Not even for water.

On the first day, I wore a surgical style mask often employed by doctors, nurses and technicians. It was 84 degrees, and I ran three miles along East Hartley Street in Ozark in about 24 minutes.

Undoubtedly, trying to take deep breaths with a mask pressed to my nose and mouth was frustrating, but it wasn’t unbearably difficult. The first masked run left me uncomfortable, but not discouraged. I could feel air entering and escaping from the sides of the mask as I took deep breaths.

On the second day, I went with a cloth mask.

I didn’t have a cloth mask, but I saw this as the opportunity to test the recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. I went to this website: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/how-to-make-cloth-face-covering.html, and made the “non-sewn face covering,” by following the directions to make a mask from fabric and two rubber bands. I spent less than $2 on a patch of fabric. The store was running low, but I was able to acquire some fabric patterned for Marvel’s Avengers.

Then I ran three miles.

It was 90 degrees and sunny. It was, in a word, unpleasant. The layers of cloth quickly became wet with a combination of sweat, my saliva and some snotty secretions from my nose. My nose runs sometimes when I exercise. I can say with little doubt that my snot was contained inside the mask, which I suppose is the big idea.

I did the run in 25 minutes, and it was tough to get a full breath of air as the wet cloth stuck to my nose and mouth. 

The worst part was the rubber bands. Office supplies simply aren’t designed to be worn around the ears. The bands I had cleverly swiped from the supply closet here at the Headliner News dug into the backs of my ears, but I still left the mask on for a continuous hour. I pictured some of our Facebook commenters rooting me on to drop dead, and it helped spur me on to spite them.

I was very happy to take off the do-it-yourself mask when my hour was up.

On the third day, I put on an N95 mask. These masks are designed to fit snugly around the mouth and nose. I made sure that the fit was snug, so that every breath I took would be air inhaled through the fibers of the mask, as the design intends.

I was inspired to run with the N95 because of a comment left on the Headliner News Facebook page under a story about masking. Actually, it was one of a lot of comments, but this one specifically pertained to health care workers in hospitals who wear N95 masks when treating patients with pulmonary issues such as tuberculosis or COVID-19.

“Not all of them wear the N95 mask at all times, but i guarantee… if they wear them for a certain amount of time… for a long period of time, they will have worse issues to deal with than the COVID,” the commenter wrote.

Would running three miles in an N95 leave me with issues worse than COVID-19? There was one way to test the commenter’s claim.

I secured the straps around the back of my head, made sure the fit was tight and sauntered forth to run three miles.

It’s important to note that I do not condone wasting PPE (personal protective equipment). As my wife, a registered nurse, pointed out, N95 masks should be used by medical professionals in situations where respiratory droplets will be aerosolized by procedures such as CPR, intubation, ventilation and other breathing treatments where air is being manually forced in and out of the lungs. In short, save the N95 for front line workers, don’t use it for impulse shopping or experimentation.

I already had a used N95 which had been contaminated, by me, when I wore it for a painting project. Let the record reflect that I did not waste or hoard PPE.

The N95 run was actually the easiest of the three. It was 84 degrees on July 12, a Sunday. Because of the shape of the mask, I didn’t have any material pressed directly to my nostrils and mouth. The elastic straps circled the top and back of my head rather than hooking around my ears. I did the run in 23 minutes.

In short, it ended up being much easier than I thought. I left the mask on for the remainder of the hour, then went about the rest of my day, stunned at how the N95 run I had been dreading was the easiest of the three masked runs.

To make a couple of disclaimers, I will clarify that I conducted this masked exercising experiment under the supervision of a registered nurse, my wife, who wielded the power to halt the experiment and make me unmask at any time she deemed it unsafe for me to continue.

Lastly, I’d like to say that I did nothing to clear this experiment with my employer, the Christian County Headliner News, or its parent company, Phillips Media, LLC, before I did it. Talk to your doctor before you begin an exercise regimen.

What did my experiment prove? Well, I didn’t drop dead from inhaling my own exhalations. I was certainly uncomfortable at times when wearing masks in hot, sweaty periods of intense activity. Yes, there was some unpleasant snot and saliva that I would have rather left in a ditch along the road instead of inside the masks. 

In comparison to the masked work that nurses, hospital technicians, environmental workers, retailers and restaurant workers are doing, my exercise of mental toughness pales in comparison. Dr. Trotman is really not asking for much in asking me to cover my face while I shop for groceries, go to public meetings or otherwise come into contact with other people. If I can wear the mask while running, I can put up with a mask for less intense activities.

—Rance Burger

(1) comment

glademan

Thank you for your efforts to address misinformation regarding the use of masks. The facts are in. Masks greatly reduce the transfer of COVID-19. Christian County needs to follow the Springfield lead in adopting a masking ordinance. It will, without a doubt, save lives in our county and beyond.

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