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KDHE Secretary Dr. Lee Norman speaks out on COVID-19 mask graph, says it was accurate despite claims it was misleading

Published: Aug. 10, 2020 at 1:00 PM CDT|Updated: Aug. 10, 2020 at 12:59 PM CDT
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TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - The Kansas Department of Health and Environment says the graph used last week during a news conference may have been confusing, but contends it was accurate.

As reported on Saturday, the Kansas Policy Institute accused Dr. Lee Norman of using misleading data that indicated Kansas counties mandating mask wearing were outperforming counties without them.

Secretary Dr. Lee Norman responded to the criticism on Monday, “If I thought there would be confusion, I wouldn’t have put it out there, of course. I can how it was confusing for some people.”

Policy Institute Chief Executive Dave Trabert said the way the data chart was laid out made it look like counties with a mask mandate actually had fewer daily cases during the period in question.

Shawnee County Commissioner Bill Riphahn says the data chart raises concerns to Kansans and Dr. Norman’s credibility.

“But the way he presented is horrendous, this was horrible the way it was presented,” Bill Riphahn stated in Monday’s Shawnee Co. Commission’s meeting. “Not only to the people of Shawnee County, but the whole state of Kansas, this was just misrepresented. I would like to know from KDHE who put that first graph together, why did they do that? We can’t let that slide by. We need an explanation from KDHE.”

Dr. Norman says he apologizes for the confusion, emphasized the data was accurate.

“I’m absolutely apologetic for the confusion, I just didn’t see that coming, but then again, I’m used to seeing graphical material displayed that way, and it’s efficient to have things on one graph,” Dr. Norman emphasized.

Dr. Norman says the data should read mask mandated counties had a drop of about 34 percent compared to counties without a mask mandate that increased nearly one percent from July 12th to August 6th.

“Those are the exactly the same scale, but you’re right, it represents that the no-mask counties have, are predominately rural, the 15 mask mandated counties are predominately larger cities and/or urban,” Dr. Norman explained.

Riphahhn says changing the graph’s presentation would clear up confusion, “Oh wow, what a difference that makes, this was horribly deceiving.”

“I’ll learn from that and try to clearer next time or have alternative ways for people to learn what its about,” Dr. Norman added.

KDHE told 13 News on Monday, “The information KDHE shared on the graph during last Wednesday’s press conference was accurate,” said Kristi Zears, spokesperson for KDHE. “However, we recognize that it was a complex graph and may not have easily been understood and easily misinterpreted.”

“Yes, the axes are labelled differently – a point Dr. Norman made and clarified when presenting this chart at the press conference. Mask mandated counties had a drop of 34.4% of cases/per 100K population, as compared to counties without a mask mandate that had an increase of 0.7% from July 12th to August 6th,” Zears explained. “The key metrics from the graph show that mask mandates have dramatically decreased the rate of cases in the counties that have the mandates. Also, the general decline in the rate of cases for Kansas is being driven by the declines in these mask counties.”

Dr. Norman also says the state is going in the right direction and the improvement is in mask mandated counties.

We reached out to the governors office for a comment, but have not heard back.

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