A Tulsa doctor gave his input Thursday evening on mask mandates and the risk he believes it entails.
Local residents gathered at the Tahlequah Municipal Armory for a COVID-19 mask discussion, debate, and question-and-answer session. CatalystMD CEO Dr. James C. Meehan said that while protecting communities is key to fighting COVID-19, medical interventions have risks.
"This medical intervention that your City Council and your mayor are going to consider is a medical intervention. I don't think the lawmakers and our civil servants should be engaged in recommending or mandating a medical intervention," Meehan said. "That should be left to the individual and their doctor and consultation. When we recommend something in medicine, we have a legal and ethical obligation to talk to you about risks, benefits, and alternatives."
According to Meehan, wearing a medical mask during long procedures decreases oxygen levels. Meehan explained there are adverse effects to wearing masks for long periods of time.
"It still induces arterial blood gas changes that have a physiological effect on a human being," Meehan said. "Imagine if that happens on a surgeon after 30 minutes in an operating room with these favorable conditions, what is it like when you're wearing your mask in your car in the middle of an Oklahoma summer, and you're wearing it for a longer period of time."
The doctor said when a person wears a non-reusable masks for hours or even days, he or she is contaminating that mask.
"It becomes essentially a trap that catches not only what you're breathing out of your lungs that blocks your oxygen intake and causes you to rebreathe your own CO2, it's also becoming contaminated over time," Meehan said. "It will grow bacterial fungi and other pathogens, and that's why in a health care environment, we never reuse it."
Lori Enlow quickly disagreed with Meehan when she said she was a nurse practitioner and that she reuses a mask.
"We do reuse masks. Actually, across the U.S., we have throughout this pandemic, so unfortunately, that is the case," said Enlow.
Enlow agreed that reusing masks is not best approach.
Meehan told the City Council that making people wear masks is an "unfunded mandate."
"Be careful about mandating something that will really cost your population. If you want to do it right -- if they want to wear it in the best-case scenario -- you're going to have to wear it once and throw it away," Meehan said. "I'm distraught to hear that our health care workers are having to reuse a one-use disposable mask."
Meehan said he's noticed people who are wearing masks aren't wearing them properly.
"They wear their masks on their chin, they move it below their nose, they put it up on their head, they take it and throw it on their car seat or on the counter at home," he said. "They're contaminating everything they are coming in contact with. They're doing it wrong, because they haven't been told how to do it differently."
Meehan said any respiratory virus is replicating in the lungs' pneumocytes until it bursts free. He said the virus will be released into the airways, and it is then exhaled.
"Typically, those respiratory droplets will fall within 6 feet; most will fall within 3 feet," he said. "That's why social distancing is important. But when you put a mask on your mouth, you're now catching what would otherwise be exhaled and falling within 6 feet of you. You're catching it in the mask itself and now you're rebreathing those viral partials."
Tahlequah Public Schools Band Director Josh Allen asked the doctor what alternatives he recommended to fighting the virus.
"If it was that easy, we probably would have figured it out by now. I do think the sooner we can detect the presence of the virus in our bodies and quarantine the sick, we also have to protect the susceptible members of our population," Meehan said. "That population that is most susceptible to COVID-19 is the same population that is most susceptible to every other respiratory virus, including influenza."
Meehan said those who are susceptible to the virus need to be protecting themselves.
"You need to stay way from other people, you need to social distance, wash your hands frequently. You need to be the one that's cautious, but we don't all need to be wearing masks," he said. "We have plenty of people who are on chemotherapy for cancer that might be in a neighborhood, and their immune system is horrifically suppressed. But we don't force everyone in their neighborhood, or in their community, or in their city, to wear a mask."
Meehan said mandating masks isn't supported by the high-level science, and it doesn't make sense to force everyone to don a mask.
"City councilors, if you're going to mandate masks, understand that you need to provide policies. There's a large percentage of your population that may have contraindications to wearing a mask," Meehan said. "Not everyone is young, healthy, and has a strong respiratory system.