The Oklahoman: Opinion: Masks could help this vulnerable population

By The Oklahoman Editorial Board
Published: July 8th, 2020

Gov. Kevin Stitt demonstrates how easy it is to wear a face mask. [AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki]

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One argument for wearing facemasks during the COVID-19 pandemic is to protect the most vulnerable, which generally is taken to mean older people with compromised immune systems. However, a different vulnerable population stands to benefit, too.

We’re talking about women and children caught in abusive relationships and who need for the reopening of Oklahoma, and the country, to continue because living in lockdown only makes matters worse.

In mid-April, one month after schools and many nonessential businesses closed in Oklahoma, officials said domestic violence calls in Oklahoma City had trended up, compared with the same time in 2019. Julie Gordy, executive assistant to the CEO at Palomar, which provides services to victims of domestic violence and sexual assault in Oklahoma City, says average calls per week to the agency climbed from 161 in March to 225 in June.

A report from the Healthy Minds Policy Initiative in Tulsa predicted that increased mental health and substance abuse issues for children and adults would continue for at least a year and likely lead to hundreds of deaths.

Tens of thousands of Oklahomans have lost their jobs or endured occasional furloughs during the coronavirus, which can ramp up the frustration and anger inside a household.

Bloomberg News reported in late June that reports of domestic violence have been on the rise in the United States. “Since states started shutting down across the U.S.,” Bloomberg said, “more than 80% of the cities and counties reporting data have seen a significant uptick in domestic violence calls to hotlines or police, according to data published by the Marshall Project.”

At the same time, gun sales are up. The FBI conducted 3.7 million background checks, a record, in March, with 2.6 million of those for firearm sales, according to Small Arms Analytics, which tracks the gun industry. That was an 85% increase from March 2019.

In Oklahoma, the rate of women killed by men in single-victim, single-offender incidents — often involving firearms — ranks among the top 20 in the United States.

Bloomberg’s analysis found that from 2014 to 2019, almost 60% of shooting incidents with four or more casualties involved an aggressor with a history of, or in the act of, domestic violence. “This is a troubling statistic made even more so during a pandemic that has people spending more time at home and buying more guns,” the story noted.

Recent weeks have seen a steady increase in the number of positive COVID-19 cases in Oklahoma (and other states). Gov. Kevin Stitt said recently that closing businesses again was not a consideration. Oklahomans living each day in fear of an abuser must hope that others of us will do our part to ensure there is no going backward. Wearing a mask while inside businesses or among crowds is one easy way to help.