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Steven Rascón
By Steven Rascón May 19, 2021

Demonstrators In Orange County Are Wrong: Kids Are Not At Risk Of Lung Diseases From Wearing Masks

If Your Time is short

  • A flier for an anti-mask rally in Orange County on Monday made claims that children are at risk for serious health diseases such as pulmonary fibrosis. Experts say there is no evidence of this.

  • The flier grabbed the debunked health claims from a theoretical medical journal that claimed to be associated with Stanford University.

A Facebook group called Informed Parents for California held a public rally on Monday in Orange County, protesting the use of face masks in California public schools. The group of more than 52,000 Facebook users created fliers for students to "sit out and zoom out." Parents were encouraged to make fliers for other school districts from Orange County up to Yuba County.

The post was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.)

The flier was riddled with false information about the health risks of wearing a mask. One of those false risks is wearing a face mask could cause pulmonary fibrosis, a disease in which scar tissue develops in the lungs. 

As reported previously by PolitiFact, there is no evidence that wearing face masks causes lung infections or reduces blood oxygen levels. Only people with pre-existing respiratory conditions may be at risk to prolonged use of tight-fitting masks, like N95 respirators.

"There is no evidence that mask wearing leads to pulmonary fibrosis in either children or adults," said David Cornfield, Chief Pulmonary, Asthma, and Sleep Medicine at Stanford Children’s Health. "Masks are safe and effective tools to mitigate the spread of viral illnesses spread in the air." 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention peer reviewed two separate studies — one with children and one with adults — on possible adverse effects associated with mask use. According to the studies, the agency found no indication of decreased oxygen or increased carbon dioxide blood level, nor clinical signs of respiratory distress among participants. 

Other false health claims on the flier included induced exhaustion syndrome and respiratory impairment. PolitiFact debunked these claims back in the summer of 2020 after talking to health experts who said face masks don’t cause lung infections. The CDC also updated its guidelines on face masks to include research on why face masks don’t cause harm.

According to a recent PolitiFact story, the misinformation stems from a theoretical paper written in Medical Hypothesis, a journal for "radical, speculative and non-mainstream scientific ideas," that is not peer-reviewed. 

The paper first went viral after Gateway Pundit, a conservative website, published a story with the headline, "Stanford Study Results: Face masks are Ineffective to Block Transmission of COVID-19 and Actually Can Cause Health Deterioration and Premature Death." 

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The paper was purported to be in association with Stanford University. The author of the theoretical paper, an exercise physiologist, was last affiliated with Stanford in 2016. Stanford asked for Medical Hypothesis to retract any affiliation with the university.

The CDC recently announced that fully vaccinated people don’t need to wear face masks or practice social distancing indoors unless under certain circumstances. California intends to align with the CDC's new guidelines on June 15.

Until then, school districts are working with the California Department of Public Health to determine what activities are safe to do for vaccinated and unvaccinated persons.

Our Ruling

A Facebook group called Informed Parents for California continues to spread false information on the health risks of wearing face masks. The group, which has tens of thousands of followers, shared a flier that had multiple claims, including one that said children who wear masks are at risk of the lung disease pulmonary fibrosis. 

We found that health claim — as well as the others on the flier — to be incorrect. 

These same claims have been debunked repeatedly by experts over the past year. Two CDC peer-reviewed studies this year showed face masks don’t decrease oxygen or increase carbon dioxide blood level. Nor do they cause respiratory distress.

Medical experts we spoke with also disagreed with the claims, and added that "masks are safe and effective tools to mitigate the spread of viral illnesses spread in the air." 

The debunked information came from a journal entry in Medical Hypothesis, a non-peer reviewed theoretical journal, and the author was falsely affiliated with Stanford University.

We rate this claim as Pants on Fire.

PANTS ON FIRE – The statement is not accurate and makes a ridiculous claim.

Our Sources

Facebook post, May 5, 2021

Facebook post, May 10, 2021

Email exchange with David Cornfield, MD, Chief of Pulmonary, Asthma, and Sleep Medicine at Stanford Children’s Health, May 14, 2021

American Lung Association, Pulmonary Fibrosis Types and Causes, accessed May 14, 2021

PolitiFact, "People are starting to enter ERs with fungal lung infections from wearing masks!!," July 2, 2020

PolitiFact, Paper about mask wearing was not from Stanford and makes false claims, April 19, 2021 

Gateway Pundit story, April 19, 2021

California Department of Public Health, existing mask guidelines, California for All, Mask Guidance to align with CDC guidelines June 15, accessed May 14, 2021

California Safe Schools for All, Interactive map of school district re-openings, accessed May 14, 2021 

COVID-19 Science Update released: March 12, 2021 Edition 80, accessed May 17, 2021

Science Brief: Community Use of Cloth Masks to Control the Spread of SARS-CoV-2, accessed May 18, 2021

CNN, People vaccinated against Covid-19 can go without masks indoors and outdoors, CDC says, May 13, 2021

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More by Steven Rascón

Demonstrators In Orange County Are Wrong: Kids Are Not At Risk Of Lung Diseases From Wearing Masks

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