FactFinder 12 digs into controversy concerning KDHE chart, claim about masks

Published: Aug. 10, 2020 at 7:22 PM CDT
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WICHITA, Kan. (KWCH) - A chart, concerning masks and COVID-19 cases used by Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE) Secretary Dr. Lee Norman, stirs controversy as some argue information is misleading, not matching up with what it shows.

The Kansas Policy Institute said the chart Dr. Norman used shows that counties without a mandatory mask order have fewer COVID-19 cases than counties where masks are required. This is correct.

Dr. Norman said the chart shows a decrease in cases where mask orders are in place, but no decrease in cases where they are not in place. This is also correct.

“Some counties have been the control group with no masks, some have been the experimental group where masks are worn, and the experimental group is winning the battle,” Dr. Norman said last week during his weekly COVID-19 briefing.

At last week’s briefing, he showed a graph to illustrate his point. It’s a point some say the graph doesn’t make.

“The data in and of itself, I don’t particularly have a problem with. My issue was its portrayal,” said Micahel Austin with the Kansas Policy Institute.

Austin said the graph shows that counties without mask orders have fewer COVID-19 cases.

“Mask mandated counties started with higher per capita cases rates and dropped down. They’re not down as low as the rural counties yet, but it’s heading that direction,” Dr. Norman explained.

Dr. Norman said the 15 counties where masks are required have a greater population, and because of that, they have more cases. But those cases decreased following mandatory mask orders.

“You’ve seen a 34.4 percent reduction in the seven-day rolling average case count for the mask-mandated counties, and a flat to a slight uptick actually (a) 0.7 percent increase in the cases in no-mask counties,” Dr. Norman said.

Some on social media have pointed to the Kansas Policy Institute’s issues with the KDHE chart as evidence that the numbers aren’t true. But even the institute said that’s not the case.

“The last thing we need is a declining public trust. We need conclusions with accurate information,” Austin said. “And that’s all I’m trying to do.”

Austin clarified that the information in the chart Dr. Norman presented wasn’t in itself inaccurate. The fault, he said, was in the way it was presented.

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