COVID-19 and Masks

The Story Behind the Numbers

Even though COVID-19 is in the news every day, it can seem pretty abstract, especially if all we see are charts and the only people we know who have it had a mild case. Yet many of us, unfortunately, know the suffering that this kind of disease imposes on the individual and on their families.

I did lose a family member to a disease that acted like a slow-motion version of COVID-19. In early 2010, my father was diagnosed with an idiopathic (no known cause) lung disease that slowly stole his breath day by day. Until, even with pure oxygen, he stopped breathing a few months later. My mother was his rock, through the hospitalizations and hospice, and fought for him with love and fierceness. 

COVID-19 also steals the breath of its victims, but much more quickly. The pain is real. The fear and isolation are real. Real people, and their families, are behind the numbers.

This is the reason why I urge you to mask up and keep social distancing. Treat others as if they are part of your family, as you would wish them to do for you.

Masks Work

The challenge with COVID-19 is that people are often most contageous when they are asymptomatic or presymptomatic. We can spread the disease without even being aware that we have it. The main way the virus that causes the disease (SARS-COV-2) spreads is through exhaled droplets that are light enough to float in the air for a short time, although spread as an aerosol is also now considered a factor. I want to take what precautions I can to reduce the spread in the event I become infected but asymptomatic and I encourage others to do so as well. Those main precautions are avoiding large gatherings, social distancing, and masking.

Wearing a cloth face covering—a mask—protects others by trapping some of the exhaled droplets and reducing how far exhaled droplets travel. We will be living with COVID-19 for a while, even with the recent announcement of a potential vaccine. While masks are not perfect and we have evidence here in Oklahoma that masks work to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

Our goal is to help protect our neighbors by doing our best to reduce spread. The Centers for Disease Control called for Americans to begin wearing masks on July 14th, 2020. They did so based on evidence showing that the use of masks reduced the spread of COVID-19. This supplemented their recommendation of social distancing.

Mask mandates are controversial, and I am neither advocating for or against them here. Instead, I am using the data that we have in Oklahoma. Communities that implemented mask mandates had reduced spread of COVID-19, meaning fewer people becoming ill, fewer people taking off from work, and more lives saved.

That data is from the Weekly Epidemiology and Surveillance Report published by the Oklahoma State Department of Health (OSDH). The table below is adapted from the table on page 12 of the October 31 – November 5, 2020 Report.

  7 Day Average Number of Cases by Date of Onset* with 7 day lag per 100,000 Population  Percent Change 8/1 to 11/1 Percent Change 9/1 to 11/1
  1-Aug 1-Sep 15-Sep 1-Oct 15-Oct 1-Nov    
Mask 20.4 18.0 24.6 23.2 26.5 27.4 34% 52%
No Mask 14.5 17.3 20.3 28.1 29.1 30.3 109% 75%
Mask vs No Mask Per capita difference 40% 4% 21% -18% -9% -10%  

*Status by Date of Onset as of 11/5/2020

This challenge with the data is that mask mandates were adopted at different times, which means the August 1 date is not precise. The areas with mask mandates were seeing growth in infections, which took time to work through the system, which is why those areas showed greater growth in infections early on, then decreased afterwards. OSDH has preliminary data where they use number of days since a mask mandate compared to other areas to show lower growth. They are still working on that data, and I will add it when I have a final version.

Find out more about Oklahoma's efforts at the Oklahoma State Department of Health Coronavirus page.

II know many people have strong feelings about masks but, masks protect others, and we are seeing increasing evidence that they offer some protection to the wearer as well. I routinely wear a mask when inside around others in public places because I am pro-life at all stages. I wish helping my father had been as easy.