Physicians Urge Masks; Address Duncan City Council

by Faith Leatherman

The Duncan City Council held a meeting on Tuesday July 28th to vote on several items in their agenda as well as hear a presentation from Duncan Regional Hospital CEO Jay Johnson along with Dr. Michael Hemphill, who specializes in critical care and pulmonology, and Dr. James McGouran, who is the medical director of the pandemic response team for Duncan and is certified in family medicine.

Members of the public were encouraged to attend the meeting and the presentation as well as giving their feedback on the issue. The presentation was the first item on the agenda to be discussed. The presentation consisted of Johnson, Hemphill, and McGouran discussing the benefits of wearing masks and encouraging members of the community to mask up to better protect themselves and those around them.

“From the healthcare perspective, we think masking is very important. What is interesting about this is when I wear a mask, I protect you and when you wear a mask you protect me so it creates a sense of something that Duncan is great about, and that is community because it’s really about helping each other,” Johnson stated during the presentation.

Johnson also mentioned a statewide coalition called A Healthier Oklahoma Coalition in which members of the various healthcare groups across the state are a part of who all encourage members of the various communities to practice masking.

“We have all pretty much unified around that this is important for our community if we really want to have open economies and to beat back the pandemic as much as possible and live our lives as much as possible,” Johnson stated.

Doctor James McGouran, the medical director of the pandemic response team, spoke about what healthcare providers know and don't know about the virus as well as what healthcare providers have been experiencing while treating patients with COVID and how we can respond to the pandemic.

“The hard thing about this virus is we are learning as we go. This virus is different. We’ve got new studies coming out and we analyze data twice a day. We are always critical of the studies, looking at what’s good about them and what’s bad about them, if we think they are going to be true and if we think it will pan out. This has been different because you have studies that have been vetted over years. Most of these studies start, you get drugs, you do stuff over years, and then you get a result and that result usually stands the test of time, but this is where everything in medicine has been put on fast track. It has been challenging to the medical community to catch up and keep up,” McGouran stated.

Doctor McGouran also spoke about masking from the healthcare provider aspect, stating that have seen very little downside and a tremendous upside to wearing a mask.

“The problem is, you don’t know when you’re going to encounter the virus. The virus is sneaky, the first few days you may not have it, thirty to forty percent of people never have symptoms so you can still be exposed,” McGouran stated.

According to McGouran, COVID-19 has been in Duncan since around the first part of March and since July 4 there has been an increase in the number of cases. He also stated that the virus does effect those with immune deficiencies worse than some but that it can affect people of all ages and that people cannot be certain who it will affect and who it will not affect. He also discussed that the effects from COVID-19 can hinder patients well after the patient has recovered from the virus and also mentioned that they have yet to figure out how to handle these after effects or even how long these issues will last.

“We are trying to double up our efforts to keep people from getting the virus. Try not to get the virus. Treatment is limited, it condenses the course and helps, but the odds of prevention with a mask we think are very beneficial. This is a different issue, we don’t know much about it. We are just asking as a physician to try and prevent the infection for your friends, your neighbors, your loved ones” McGouran stated.

Doctor Michael Hemphill was the final healthcare provider to present on the issue of masking and he discussed the increase in cases and the increase in severity of those cases. He stated that two patients who are currently being treated for the virus will recover but the effects from the virus that will linger are unknown. He also stated that he is seeing more young and very healthy people being affected with the virus in his clinic who are not able to continue their daily lives and tasks well after their recovery due to the lasting effects of the virus. And he talked about the benefits to masking from his research.

“The best evidence that we have comes from medical journals that have come from large medical studies. As far as the question of whether or not masks reduce the transmission of disease, the data definitely supports this to be true. A recent article in June in a medical journal of about twenty-five hundred people that demonstrated through medical communities and just communities in Europe, that wearing a mask reduces the risk of transmission by up to 85%,” Hemphill stated.

Hemphill also discussed some new evidence that is currently coming forth stating that masking not only protects those around a person, it can also help somewhat protect the mask wearer from contracting the virus. He also discussed the types of masks worn and the negative effects that have been mentioned online and elsewhere.

“With the masks we are asking community members to wear, the cloth masks, there is no evidence of ant ill effect of wearing masks. We know that oxygen and carbon dioxide particles are small enough to pass through the masks so you don’t get an increase in carbon dioxide or a decrease of oxygen levels when wearing the masks and the best evidence to support this is that our own practitioners wear masks everyday and have done it for decades and have seen no ill effects,” Hemphill stated

Hemphill also stated that as a pulmonologist he sees clear evidence that there is very little harm to wearing masks and encourages members of the community to wear them as well to protect themselves and those around them.

As of the meeting, there will be no mask mandate implemented, however, council members are supportive of the mask encouragement.

“Right now we are highly encouraging members of the community to wear masks and we are asking that community members adhere to the guidelines in place currently as best as they can and for citizens to step up and help each other out,” Ward 3 City Councilwoman Patty Wininger.

Wininger also stated that in order to help encourage masking citizens can spread the word about the encouragement of masks through social media and word of mouth and by being kind to one another during this time.

After the presentation, the council members voted to pass each item on the agenda and the next Duncan City Council meeting will be held on Tuesday August 11th.

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