Doctor says mask mandate has had major impact on OU’s coronavirus cases

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OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – As schools across the state prepare to welcome students back to class for the first time since March, many parents are concerned about their child’s safety in an in-person learning environment.

For weeks, schools in Oklahoma have been developing plans on how to keep students safe during the coronavirus pandemic.

Some districts have decided to begin the school year in a virtual setting, while others have opted for simple precautions for an in-person setting.

Dr. Dale Bratzler, the OU Medicine Enterprise Chief Quality Officer and OU’s Chief COVID Officer, says no one really knows what the best plan for the school year is at this point.

“To be honest, none of us know for sure. We’ve never done this before. One thing that I think is really important to recognize, I agree with the commissioner, kids under the age of 10 are a little less likely to get infected and may not spread it as much, but we actually don’t know very well. Because remember when we first hit the big peak of the COVID outbreak in the early spring, we closed all the schools down. So this is going to be somewhat of a new, natural experiment to see what actually happens when you bring school-aged children back together,” said Dr. Bratzler.

On Thursday, data from the Oklahoma State Department of Health shows that the state has had 41,401 confirmed cases of COVID-19 since March.

Officials say there were 10 additional deaths, meaning the death toll stands at 593.

“We know from this disease in general that more than 99% of the people who get this infection do survive. However, when you look at the overall mortality rate, the estimate still is that the mortality is five to six times higher than influenza. So what we’ve seen in this country is more than 160,000 people now in the United States have died from this disease. It’s just numbers that you don’t typically see during a flu season or something else. So we just don’t want to take this lightly,” he said.

In recent weeks, many communities across the state have started implementing a mask mandate for indoor, public spaces.

Dr. Bratzler says that those mandates could have a significant impact on the state’s coronavirus cases and deaths.

“There’s lots of new signs now that show that masks are very, very effective at stopping the droplets from coming out of your mouth that other people could breathe in and then get infected. And I saw an interesting study last week from the Institute for Health Care Metrics and Evaluation, the Washington group the president and many people have quoted many times, and they highlighted that even if a mask is only 30% effective, it would prevent two-thirds of the deaths from COVID-19. So I think wearing a mask is a small price to pay to save somebody’s life,” he said.

As those mandates have gone into effect, officials have been waiting to see that impact on the case numbers. So far, it seems like the case numbers have remained at an elevated level.

However, Dr. Bratzler says that the data should be evident soon.

“I know some researchers are actually looking at that now. Recognize that the data that we get on new cases is often a week or so old, so it takes some time after a mask ordinance goes into effect to start to see,” he said.

For example, he said the tests completed on the OU-Norman campus have been affected by Norman’s mask mandate.

“Our physician down there has shown that the rate of positive test has gone down dramatically in Norman where we have both the university policy and we have a Norman ordinance. It was 12% positive about a month ago and now, this past week, we’ve gone below 5% positive,” he said.

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