LAWTON – As Oklahoma enters its seventh month of the coronavirus pandemic, public opinion seems to be consistent when it comes to the importance of facial coverings, according to results from a new Southwest Ledger survey.
The survey asked 563 Comanche County residents if they approve or disapprove of mandating mask usage while in public places. Poll results revealed 71.4 percent (402) of those surveyed approved of the mandate, 56 percent strongly approved.
Those findings did not surprise Meagan Garibay, a Registered Nurse and board-certified infection preventionist at Comanche County Memorial Hospital. She has witnessed a change in the attitudes concerning facial coverings.
“[T]he majority of people are supportive of it,” Garibay said. “I think the majority of people that don’t support it... don’t understand the why behind the mandate. They don’t understand the purpose of masks or how masks help protect the general population from COVID or from any other number of respiratory illnesses.”
Garibay’s job is to prevent the spread of infectious viruses and diseases to other patients and staff inside CCMH. She has been doing the job since 2015.
Wearing a mask is not intended to protect the person from getting the virus, she said. Masks protect others from you. When a person talks, coughs, sneezes, laughs, or breathes, they release respiratory droplets into the air that could be inhaled by anyone in the immediate vicinity.
According to the Ledger survey, 15.3 percent of the people are strongly against the mask mandate while 8.3 percent are only somewhat against it.
People who are against the mask mandate don’t believe they should be told what to do, Garibay said. She explained that when wearing facial coverings was a voluntary act, only a small percentage of the population chose to use them.
While Comanche County’s 71.4 percent approval rate may seem high, those figures trail most national polls and surveys.
A late August national poll conducted by PR Newswire showed that 80 percent approve of their local and state governments requiring public mask mandates; 78 percent think a federal mask mandate should be enacted.
However, Garibay says outdated information and the abundance of misinformation being circulated has caused a public distrust in regards to masking practices and safety precautions concerning the slowing of the coronavirus pandemic. That skepticism includes the public’s view of the scientific community as well.
“That’s the problem with watching science evolve in real time, like it is with COVID,” she said. “What was true yesterday may not be true today ... because there’s so many people doing so much research.”
As the nation moves through 2020, many theories are circulating as to what will happen with the pandemic. With no available vaccine on the market nor any medication proving to slow COVID- 19’s effects, that leaves social distancing, hand washing and mask usage as top options.
Nevertheless, with flu season around the corner, that could add another obstacle to the already surmounting problems.
Garibay is asking residents to not only continue wearing their masks, but she also encourages people to get a flu shot before the end of October.
“It’s just kind of a wild-card scenario because we don’t truly know the impact that flu season will have with COVID going on simultaneously. Unfortunately, we’re just going to have to live through the flu season to see which way it goes.”