Over the past few weeks, we’ve seen claims of the dangers of wearing masks and the dangers of not wearing masks. One of the main claims against face coverings, other than discomfort, is the lack of oxygen guests may receive while being at a theme park all day. I took a pulse oximeter to the Universal Orlando Resort to see true results of what our blood oxygen saturation percentage was throughout the day.
With Florida reaching nearly 9,000 cases of COVID-19 in a day, many counties have mandates that the public must wear masks in public except when eating or drinking. Even though this is now the case in Orange County, most theme parks around the world are already making masks mandatory, including Universal, Disney and SeaWorld.
We recently wore a mask all day in the heat at Universal Orlando to see how uncomfortable it would be, and determined it’s not ideal, but doable with some of our tips. Since we know it’s doable, we also wanted to make sure wearing face coverings in the heat is also safe.
We started our testing at home. This was taken after five minutes of sitting in an air-conditioned home with a house temperature of 71º Fahrenheit. I was not wearing a mask. For our pulse oximeter, the blood oxygen saturation is at the top, with the pulse recorded at the bottom. According to the Mayo Clinic, “Normal pulse oximeter readings usually range from 95 to 100 percent. Values under 90 percent are considered low.”
I then went on a 25-minute speed-walk outdoors with no mask. The temperature was 95º Fahrenheit with intermittent clouds most of the day. I had a two percent drop in blood oxygen levels.
As soon as we parked at the Universal Orlando Resort, I took another reading. It was my highest blood oxygen reading yet, with one percent higher than resting at home in the air conditioning. We then put on our masks and headed to the theme parks.
During our day we tested the three most commonly seen masks in theme parks. Many parks sell the common over-the-ear looped mask seen on the left. Disposable filtered masks, center, are the most used and can be easily purchased in bulk. Many others also use the neck gaiter style seen on the right.
With the disposable filtered masks being the most used, and most recommended for filtration, we used it for most of the testing.
We wanted to get a true experience without taking the mask off for two hours. We rode Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure when it was our time for the virtual queue. The virtual queue has done an exceedingly good job at keeping crowds down in a line that usually is packed.
During our two-hour test, we made sure to be primarily outside in the Florida heat. We also walked past the rumored Velocicoaster construction and did an entire loop around Universal’s Islands of Adventure park.
I had now worn the disposable filtered mask for two hours without removing it. During that time, I did not lower the mask under my nose or take it off briefly for a sip of water or snack. My blood oxygen saturation was 95, one percent lower than my initial exam. But, it was actually one percent higher than when I speed-walked at home without a mask.
But, we wanted to be sure that a thrill attraction, like a roller coaster, would not cause vastly different results. I did tests after numerous thrill attractions and received the same results again and again. These two images were taken at the exit of Dr. Doom’s FearFall and The Incredible Hulk Coaster. My blood oxygen saturation level stayed at 94 and 95 percent consistently between each attraction.
So, what are dangerous blood oxygen saturation levels? Why is it important to note our percentages while wearing a mask in the parks?
“Hypoxemia is a below-normal level of oxygen in your blood, specifically in the arteries. Hypoxemia is a sign of a problem related to breathing or circulation, and may result in various symptoms, such as shortness of breath,” states the Mayo Clinic. Remember, normal readings range from 95 to 100 percent. Only values under 90 percent are considered low.
The Lung Institute states that, “Oxygen saturation refers to the amount of oxygen that’s in your bloodstream. The body requires a specific amount of oxygen in your blood to function properly. The normal range of oxygen saturation for adults is 94 to 99 percent. Anyone with an oxygen saturation level below 90 percent will likely require supplemental oxygen, which is prescribed by your primary care doctor or pulmonologist.”
I prefer the neck gaiter style, and feel it is easiest to wear comfortably for long periods. My friend, pictured above, prefers the over-ear looped masks.
The disposable filtered masks are the thickest and most filtered options. They, therefore, should give the user the least amount of oxygen. Even during tests after thrill rides or long walks in the park, our blood oxygen saturation never dropped below 94 while using any of the three masks.
Our friend and theme park vlogger Tim Tracker also did a blood oxygen test. He did numerous tests while walking around Disney property. And, he received generally the same results that we did.
These were our results, but we certainly are not claiming to be doctors who specialize in this area. We have visited the parks on numerous occasions with no fear of passing out or going ill from lack of oxygen. But, it is always best to consult your own physician. Each person has their own comfort levels. In the current situation, extreme caution and care are needed in public areas.
If you feel you can’t wear a face mask because of a disability, but still want to visit Universal Orlando, they are now allowing those guests to wear a face shield instead of a mask with permission.
Does this article change your mind about masks? Is there a mask you prefer to wear for extended periods? What mask do you feel most comfortable and safe in? Let us know in the comments below.