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COVID-19 faulty evidence confirmation bias

Air quality monitors can’t measure a person’s oxygen levels

A video of a man claiming that school mask mandates are unsafe because an air quality monitor placed under a child’s mask causes a carbon dioxide alert is circulating as “evidence” that masks cause low oxygen levels — but that’s not true. He was misusing the monitor. Let’s take a look at the facts.

A screenshot of a TikTok video showing a man and young girl at a school board meeting. The text “Lago Vista, Texas school board meeting 6/24/21” has been added as a caption at the bottom of the screen. A caption from the News Literacy Project with a red X and the words “faulty demonstration” in red font has been added.
The air quality demonstration in this video — purportedly of a school board meeting in Lago Vista, Texas — does not demonstrate that mask mandates are unsafe for children.
Air quality monitors designed to measure oxygen levels of enclosed spaces and work areas do not provide accurate readings for oxygen levels of people wearing masks.
Placing an air quality sensor under a mask will result in artificially high carbon dioxide measurements due to exhaled CO2.
A number of studies using accurate measurement methods — such as blood tests or oximeters — have shown that wearing cloth and disposable masks does not cause people’s oxygen levels to drop or CO2 levels to rise.

Here is a full copy of the video:

NewsLit takeaway

This rumor highlights a number of key news literacy concepts and trends. First, it’s part of a larger pattern of parents and citizens repeating COVID-19 misinformation at public meetings. It’s also an example of faulty evidence that might seem substantive — until expert sources are checked. Also, the fact that this TikTok video was captured and re-posted to other platforms, demonstrates the cross-platform nature of misinformation online. Finally, it also underscores the power of confirmation bias, or the tendency to readily embrace information that seems to uphold one’s previous beliefs and ideas. Many of the people applauding in the video, and presumably many of the people sharing this video online, appear to have accepted the demonstration as evidence that masks aren’t safe without stopping to question whether it was a meaningful or reliable test.

“Another air quality monitor demonstration fails to show masks reduce oxygen” (Tom Kertscher, PolitiFact).

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