City to distribute masks this week

Muskogee water customers will begin receiving envelopes this week packed with five fabric masks that are washable and reusable. 

The city purchased three pallets of the face coverings as part of its efforts to mitigate the local impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. The number of COVID-positive patients who live within Muskogee’s municipal boundaries grew from 98 on July 6 to 321 on Monday, a 227% increase, more than tripling in four weeks the number of cases reported during the first four months of the pandemic.

“This may be enough for some households, maybe not enough for other families,” City Manager Mike Miller said. “But we will have several more thousand that will be distributed by the community partners we are working with, so if anybody in Muskogee needs a mask, the city will find a way to help you get reusable masks.”

Miller said the fabric masks “aren’t necessarily the kind that keep you safe.” They are, he said, the kind “that can be used to help keep your neighbors safe,” urging people to “wear them” and “help each other out.”

Ward IV Councilor Tracy Hoos expressed his support for the mask initiative. The Muskogee physician said the data he has reviewed show “cloth masks are very effective with what we are trying to do: mitigate the spread of coronavirus.”

Muskogee Emergency Management Director Tyler Evans said the masks, which cost 95 cents each, “are absolutely reusable and much better than the blue surgical masks that are disposable.” He said the envelopes should start showing up in mailboxes by Thursday or Friday. 

Doug Walton, a spokesman for Muskogee County Health Department said curbside testing was scaled back locally this week and will be available from 8:30 to 10:30 a.m. Wednesday and Friday. He said a “slowdown in lab turnaround and capacity” along with a staffing shortage due to “contact tracing, case investigation and the loss of National Guard assistance prompted the decision to scale back local testing. 

“We are continuing to see a high positive rate on testing — 6% to 7% of tests are coming back positive,” Walton said. “Back in the first of June the rate of our positive test results was less than 1% for our testing.” 

Walton emphasized the need to “reinforce the guidance for wearing face coverings in public” and maintaining a distance of six feet between others even while wearing a mask. He said “symptom checks” should be conducted before engaging in team sports or any social gatherings, and those who are sick or have health conditions should stay home.

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