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Oklahoma Medical Center Doctors make impassioned plea for Oklahomans to wear masks

Doctors make impassioned plea for Oklahomans to wear masks

 A group of Oklahoma City doctors and hospital leaders are begging Oklahomans to wear masks to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

At a news conference outside the University of Oklahoma Medical Center on Tuesday, local doctors pleaded with the public to wear masks as the state continues to see a surge in new COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations.

Dr. Julie Watson, chief medical officer for Integris Health, warned the state's COVID-19 situation is quickly deteriorating. The nightmare scenario for health care providers is having to decide between treating a COVID-19 patient or a non-COVID patient because if current trends continue, there might not be room for both, she said.

"We are in trouble," she said. "Our local and state health care resources are approaching their limits. If nothing is done soon to slow the rise in cases, our hospitals will be more overwhelmed than they already are and we won’t be able to be there for all of those who need it."

Integris is looking at halting some elective surgeries due to the influx of COVID-19 patients, but no final decisions have been made, she said.

Dr. Cameron Mantor, chief medical officer for OU Health Hospital, said it's impossible to predict when any hospital or region might run out of beds. Hospitals are managing on an hour-to-hour basis and the ability to accept new patients can vary widely throughout a given day, he said.

For those Oklahomans who are wondering if masks really work, Watson said wearing a mask unequivocally helps reduce the spread of the virus. She cited state data that shows since August, cities with mask mandates saw a 21% rise in COVID-19 cases, compared to an 88% rise in cases in cities without mask requirements.

"Wearing a mask makes a difference," Watson said. "Wearing a mask is not a sign of weakness or fear. It is not political. It’s an outward symbol that says, 'I am contributing. I am willing to do what it takes to help.'"

At the news conference, Gov. Kevin Stitt said he still has no plans to issue a statewide mask mandate. Stitt has resisted repeated calls for a mandate from some health care professionals and Democratic legislative leaders.

Watson tried to appeal to Oklahomans' kind and friendly nature, saying an order shouldn't be necessary for residents to help their neighbors.

"The governor, nor the government, should have to tell us to do the right thing," she said.

Stitt, who had a mild case of COVID-19 over the summer, also urged all Oklahomans to wear a mask in public and limit in-person gatherings.

"We’re here letting Oklahomans know we really need their help to slow the spread," he said.

The governor was a late adopter of masks and has occasionally been photographed not wearing a mask while in public.

As for other actions he could take to respond to the worsening pandemic, Stitt pointed to his ability to sign an executive order stopping elective surgeries at hospitals, but that comes with some economic ramifications. Stitt said more than 1,500 health care professionals were laid off in Oklahoma City and Tulsa in the spring when he implemented such an order. Hospitals make a significant portion of their revenue off such procedures.

Stitt did not say if he would enact other restrictions, such as limiting capacity in restaurants or bars.

Oklahoma State Medical Association President Dr. George Monks called on state and municipal leaders to take action to curb the intensifying health crisis. Monks has been one of Stitt's toughest critics throughout the pandemic, and has repeatedly called on the governor to issue a statewide mask mandate.

Monks and the state health association have also encouraged municipal leaders to impose mask requirements on the local level.

"We call on all Oklahomans — from our state leaders to our municipalities to individual citizens — to follow Gov. Stitt’s advice and do the things we know work to reduce the spread of this deadly disease," Monks said.

Source - https://oklahoman.com/article/5675979/doctors-make-impassioned-plea-for-oklahomans-to-wear-masks

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