Scientists urging Oklahomans to wear masks to help stem spread of COVID-19, save lives

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OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – 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.

On Tuesday morning, data from the Oklahoma State Department of Health shows that the state has had 21,738 confirmed cases of COVID-19 since March.

That’s an increase of 993 cases over the past 24 hours and the highest number of cases recorded since March.

Throughout Oklahoma, municipalities are implementing 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.

OMRF President Stephen Prescott, M.D. stresses 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.”

“If we wear masks in large enough numbers, it greatly reduces the spread of the virus,” he added. “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, OMRF says.

“Wearing a mask helps remind you to follow social distancing rules and generally keeps you more aware,” said OMRF immunologist Eliza Chakravarty, M.D. “You’re more likely to stay away from others, wash your hands and avoid touching your face.”

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.”

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.”

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