The City Council on Wednesday will begin discussing the future of the city’s mask ordinance and whether to consider lowering the age requirement for wearing one.
The ordinance approved by councilors and signed by the mayor in mid-July set the minimum age at 18. The ordinance expires when Mayor G.T. Bynum’s civil emergency order expires Nov. 30 or when the ordinance is repealed, modified or extended by the City Council, whichever comes first.
“We are trying to see if we need to think about extending that, and if we are going to extend it, should we lower the age range, what is the truth about viral load and exposure and have we seen it rise in our underage kids,” said Councilor Crista Patrick.
Patrick stressed that Wednesday’s discussion with Tulsa Health Department Executive Director Bruce Dart will focus on gathering information about how COVID-19 is affecting young people locally and that no decisions are expected to be made at the meeting.
“It’s mostly a data-mining collection expedition to see if the numbers are really reflecting the need to have a lower age and to find out the real information about the viral load and how is that different in each age group of people, which would determine risk factor of getting and spreading the virus,” Patrick said.
Bynum, meanwhile, said he expects that the city’s mask mandate will be extended beyond the end of November given the consistent levels of cases and hospitalizations.
“Unless something dramatic happens in the next two months to cause both to drop, I think extending the mask ordinance is a responsible move,” Bynum said.
Dr. Sarah-Anne Henning Schumann told councilors earlier this month that she believes the city should lower the minimum age requirement to 10 or 11. Schumann is a family doctor with Community Health Connection and sits on the board of the Tulsa Health Department. She was speaking only for herself during the council meeting.
“We need to lower the age for the mask mandate,” Schumann said. “So 18, that is not really typical. I am actually on all kinds of Facebook groups for doctors around COVID, and ours is really high. Eighteen is too high.”
Schumann noted that Oklahoma City’s minimum age requirement for wearing a mask is 11 and that in affected counties in Texas it is 10.
“So I would love to see a discussion of decreasing our age to the Texas or Oklahoma City 10 or 11,” Schumann said. “I hope you will consider that.”
As of Monday afternoon, Tulsa County has had 15,202 positive COVID-19 cases and 144 people in the county have died from the disease, according to the Tulsa Health Department.
More than 10% of cases involve individuals 17 years old or younger. That figure includes individuals 4 years old and younger, who account for 1.37 % of cases; and people 5 to 17, who account for 9.71 % of cases.
In the first week of September, the county saw an 11% increase in COVID-19 cases over the previous week, with the largest increase in the 5-17 age group. The number of new cases for that age group increased by 44.59%.
“This is the first week that within high risk settings, schools had more associated cases than long-term care and nursing homes,” according to a THD report.
COVID-19 basics everyone needs to know as the pandemic continues
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