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Mask rule may have slowed COVID-19

Just 2 new cases in 8 days

Staff writer

UPDATE — A 62nd case of COVID-19 — a woman in her 50s — was confirmed late Wednesday afternoon. The latest case slightly increased, to 0.57 per day, the rate of new cases since Marion imposed its mask mandate, but that rate remains substantially below the 1.46 new cases per day experienced after county commissioners rejected a statewide mask mandate. As of Wednesday evening, the county had only two patients actively displaying symptoms of or being treated for COVID. Neither was hospitalized. A total of 1,081 county residents have now tested negative for COVID. A still-relevant earlier story and updated graphics follow.

Public awareness heightened by Marion’s move to require face masks may have contributed to a dramatic slowing in the number of new COVID-19 cases reported daily in Marion County.

In the past week, the county has recorded only one new case of COVID-19 — a man in his 30s, confirmed Sunday.

That’s the longest period with only one new case since before county commissioners initially voted to overturn a statewide requirement to wear masks in public when social distancing was impossible.

Before that vote, the number of cases in the county had been increasing at a rate of less than 0.14 per day.

Immediately afterward, perhaps because residents wrongly interpreted it as a sign precautions weren’t necessary, it jumped to more than 1.46 per day.

However, since Marion imposed its own mask order, it has been cut to less than 0.55 per day.

After commissioners overturned a statewide mask rule in the county, Marion County, became rated a national “red zone,” with an infection rate rising by more than 1 case per 1,000 residents weekly.

Since Marion imposed its mask mandated, the county has gone to having the slowest growth rate for infections in the region, just 0.1 new cases per 1,000 residents weekly.

Even with improving numbers, jumping to conclusions too quickly still could be a dangerous prospect, county nurse Diedre Serene said.

“I’d definitely like to see it continue the way it has been going the last week,” she said. “But as people see that, they also tend to get more complacent and may not be taking precautions.”

No significant changes in the virulence, transmission, or detection of the disease have occurred during these periods. And, of course, neither stay-at-home orders nor mask mandates completely prevent the disease’s spread.

Even after several months of dealing with the pandemic, Serene often is asked about safety measures.

“I get questions all the time about what the purpose of the mask is and whether they help,” she said. “Yeah, if 80% of people use them and use them correctly then we might continue to see that plateau.”

Since public consciousness was raised by Marion’s mask mandate, the number of new cases in the county has declined so significantly that none were reported Wednesday through Saturday, only one was reported Sunday, and none were reported Monday or Tuesday.

Similar lessening of infection rates have been observed statewide by scientists analyzing COVID data in counties with and without mask mandates. Their findings were independently confirmed earlier this week by reporters for the Kansas City Star and Wichita Eagle.

Although some COVID patients in Marion County have reported other symptoms after no longer being regarded as active patients, only two county patients remained undergoing active treatment as of Sunday, the latest date for which information is available, and neither of them was hospitalized, county health officials said.

Tracing the pandemic can prove difficult because many county residents regularly travel to other communities, Serene said.

“Marion residents don’t only shop, attend events, or go to work in Marion,” she said.

Through Sunday, a total of 1,055 county residents — 8.9% of the population — have tested negative for COVID-19.

Updated after print deadline:

Last modified Aug. 20, 2020

 

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