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Oklahoma researcher's data suggests masks help prevent spread of COVID-19

Posted at 7:21 PM, Dec 01, 2020

TULSA, Okla. — Only about 41% of counties across Oklahoma have mask mandates or ordinances. But, how well are they working?

Medical experts are tracking this and a new study is shows how effective the mandates are in preventing community spread. The data shows how the virus spreads in communities with a mask mandate and those without one.

University of Oklahoma's School of Medicine's Dr. David Kendrick started tracking community outbreak at the beginning of the pandemic. Dr. Kendrick is also the CEO ofMyHealth Access Network, an Oklahoma nonprofit health information exchange.

Starting in 2009, the site helps healthcare providers access patient records. Now, the same platform is helping the public access key information about community outbreaks.

Dr. Kendrick said his data shows masks help prevent community spread.

“Almost from the beginning, we’ve seen a difference between three to five percent,” he said. “That is significant. It represents a number of individuals who are not infected and cannot go on to infect others."

READ MORE: Coronavirus cases reported in Oklahoma

But, tracking community outbreak is only the tip of the iceberg. When it comes to testing, all lab-results are mandated to go straight to the Oklahoma State Department of Health. But they aren’t connected directly to labs that are generating the results. Meaning it takes time for the department to physically type, submit and adjudicate a case for it to be counted by the state.

Meanwhile Dr. Kendrick said the MyHealth Access data flows in real-time.

“So, we know when a patient is admitted to the hospital. We know when they are discharged from the hospital or admitted in for a clinic visit," Dr. Kendrick said. "It can provide more real-time information about things like availability of beds and resources.”

The nonprofit doesn’t count the total number of cases throughout the state because it’s not required by law. Instead, the network counts positivity rates; a key component in identifying which areas have higher community spread than others.

Still, Dr. Kendrick said just because a mask ordinance is in place, doesn’t mean people will follow it.

“It hopefully means a higher percentage will wear a mask and people will be a little more thoughtful about what they’re doing out and about," he said. "But, it doesn’t guarantee a behavior change.”

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