As COVID-19 cases reach record highs in Oklahoma, scientists at the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation continue to urge people across the state to wear masks to help stem the spread of the virus and save lives.
Throughout Oklahoma, municipalities are instating new mask requirements to help slow the virus’ spread. In Oklahoma City and Tulsa, face coverings are now required for food service employees, and Norman and Stillwater’s city councils last week overwhelmingly approved ordinances requiring face coverings in most public places.
Mask-wearing has become a hot-button issue for some. But OMRF President Stephen Prescott, M.D., stressed that masks simply serve as a way we can protect fellow Oklahomans from a potentially deadly virus.
“I feel like Oklahoma should be leading the way in this,” said Prescott, a physician and medical researcher. “We talk so often about the Oklahoma Standard and its values of service, honor and kindness. Wearing a mask is all those things.”
The Oklahoma State Department of Health reported 993 new COVID-19 cases and 4 additional deaths on Tuesday, bringing the state’s number of positive cases to nearly 22,000 and 428 deaths since March. The state’s first COVID-19 pediatric death was recorded on Friday.
“If we wear masks in large enough numbers, it greatly reduces the spread of the virus,” said Prescott. “That’s not a political statement. That is a medically proven fact.”
During the 2003 outbreak of SARS, another coronavirus, studies found that mask-wearing was more effective at preventing viral spread than washing hands 10 times per day or wearing gloves. These findings make sense, said OMRF immunologist Eliza Chakravarty, M.D.
“Wearing a mask helps remind you to follow social distancing rules and generally keeps you more aware,” she said. “You’re more likely to stay away from others, wash your hands and avoid touching your face.”
Last week, the University of Washington’s Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluations projected that widespread mask-wearing could save 45,000 lives by November 1.
Chakravarty said a change of mindset may help motivate people to mask up: wearing a mask isn’t meant to protect you from catching the virus, it’s designed to stop the spread of the virus.
“Most masks were not developed to protect the person wearing them,” she said. “Masks, traditionally, are put on people who are coughing or sneezing and might spread the virus to provide some containment. This is why doctors and nurses wear them when performing a procedure, to avoid infecting the vulnerable patient,” Chakravarty concluded.
With the U.S. death toll from the virus now in excess of 134,000, Prescott said it isn’t too late for Oklahoma to avoid becoming a national coronavirus hotspot.
“This recent spike is disappointing but not devastating,” said Prescott. “If we redouble our efforts and band together, Oklahomans can still prevent a massive outbreak in our communities, which will absolutely save lives.”