Measures stricter than mandating masks remain possible as COVID-19 continues spreading in Tulsa County.
One percent of Tulsa County residents have been infected with the disease. As of Friday, that was 6,856 cumulative cases among the county’s approximately 651,500 residents.
“I cannot think of a time in the history of our city where 1% of our population was diagnosed with an infectious disease in a six-month period of time from its origin,” Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum said.
It may be a much higher percentage of the population when undetected cases are considered. Earlier in the pandemic, state officials estimated that the total case count was actually five times higher than the confirmed case count.
Eighty-nine Tulsa County residents have died from the disease.
On May 9, as state businesses and activities were reopening, 14 people were hospitalized due to COVID-19 in Tulsa County. Earlier this week, the number was around 185 people.
Bynum described it as a “remarkable rate of spread,” saying that is why social distancing is encouraged, masks have been mandated and state guidelines are being enforced.
Tulsa County health officials and other leaders briefed reporters and the public Thursday about the spread of COVID-19 in the county. Bynum used the time to remind people that face masks — a simple piece of cloth — are the best stop-gap measure.
But while masks and face coverings, in conjunction with social distancing and basic hygiene practices, are highly effective at slowing the spread of the virus, harsher prevention measures remain “very much on the table,” Bynum said.
He was referencing shelter-in-place and safer-in-place orders issued in March and April as the virus began spreading in the region.
A leaked July 14 document prepared for the White House Coronavirus Task Force but not publicized indicated that Oklahoma and 17 other states should revert to those stringent measures to reverse the trend toward more infections. The measures include limiting social gatherings to 10 or fewer people; closing bars and gyms; and asking residents to wear masks at all times in public.
It is the hope of public officials that broader acceptance of mask-wearing will allow “us to avoid those kinds of measures that are more harmful to our economy,” Bynum said.
Health officials highly discouraged residents from using memes and dubious postings on social media to inform themselves about COVID-19 and masks, encouraging them instead to seek information from a health care provider.
By following those simple guidelines, Tulsa Health Department Director Bruce Dart said, “you’re helping slow the spread of COVID-19 and helping keep other Tulsa County residents healthy.”
COVID-19 is most commonly spread through respiratory droplets, so public health officials encourage people to wear a mask or cloth face covering and to stay at least 6 feet from people who don’t live with them.
“The prolonged use of surgical or medical masks can be uncomfortable; however, it does not lead to CO2 intoxication, nor oxygen issues,” Dart said.
Masks provide, for the most part, protection from the wearer. They significantly reduce the spread of respiratory droplets from people who may not yet know they are COVID-19 positive or who are asymptomatic.
Dart said masks provide some protection to the wearer from contracting the virus, as well, so long as the mask is used in conjunction with social distancing and enhanced hygiene practices.
Bynum said protecting life is a major driving force behind the push for mask-wearing.
“I think it’s really important to remember why we’re doing this: We lost a nurse practitioner named Aimee Williams this week to COVID-19,” Bynum said.
Williams was a nurse, a wife and a mother to a young son. She battled COVID-19 and its effects for months before dying on Saturday.
Masks are vital when social distancing is difficult. A snug fit that covers the mouth and nose is the most effective, according to public health officials. In addition, people should avoid being in group or mass gatherings.
Hands should be washed prior to putting on the face covering and before taking it off. People should avoid touching their face.
Frequent and thorough handwashing with soap and water or the use of hand sanitizer also can help prevent the spread of the disease, health experts say.
Those seeking to be tested for COVID-19 may find resources on the Oklahoma State Department of Health’s website, where testing sites are listed by county.