OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – As the number of cases of novel coronavirus climb in Oklahoma, state leaders are encouraging Oklahomans to continue practicing social distancing guidelines.
On Tuesday, Gov. Kevin Stitt held a news conference to discuss the state of personal protective equipment, or PPE, in Oklahoma, the state’s response to COVID-19, and unemployment assistance.
“We all have to take this very, very seriously,” Gov. Stitt said.
Stitt is encouraging Oklahomans to ‘close their networks’ and to limit their possible exposure to the virus by having only one person from the household run essential errands.
So far, he says that 13,000 people have been tested for COVID-19, citing data that was just released by the Oklahoma State Department of Health on Monday.
On Monday night, the health department announced that private labs had been performing coronavirus tests on Oklahomans since February. However, the news came as a surprise to many doctors across the state who say they struggled to get patients tested for the virus prior to March because they were told that the testing had to be conducted by the CDC.
When asked why the state waited until March to act if testing was already occurring in February, Stitt said that he believes the state put the correct restrictions in place at the right time, adding that the state didn’t have its first confirmed case until March.
At this point, the state knows about 1,427 positive cases. Officials say that they believe 522 people have recovered from the virus, adding that those patients are no longer showing symptoms.
However, the CDC says it can’t be truly known if a patient has fully recovered from the virus unless they receive two negative test results that are collected 24 hours apart.
Health officials with the Oklahoma State Department of Health told KFOR they are prioritizing testing for people who are currently sick. Instead, they are using the data they have available to estimate the number of patients who have recovered in the state.
Although the number of confirmed cases continues to rise in the Sooner State, Stitt says that he is optimistic that social distancing is working.
“I want to make sure Oklahomans have an accurate picture of what’s going on in our state,” he said.
Looking at the data, he says there are 407 patients in the hospital with COVID-19 or symptoms of the virus. Last week, he says there were 560 patients, adding that he believes things are starting to flatten.
“We are in good shape, but I want you to know we are still preparing for a surge,” Stitt said.
He says the IHME model has flattened out a bit and is now predicting 1,300 hospitalizations at Oklahoma’s peak. At this point, he says the peak appears to be in the beginning to mid-May.
However, the IHME website says that Oklahoma’s peak will come much sooner than that. Instead, the IHME suggests that the peak resource use for Oklahoma will be April 22 with the number of deaths expected to peak on April 25.
In all, the IHME suggests that 813 Oklahomans could die from the virus by August 4.
Stitt stresses that what the public does over the next three weeks will determine what the virus will do after April 30.
He says that while the 16 reported deaths over 24 hours is concerning, the early models predicted more hospitalizations for the state at this point.
Stitt says the public should continue following social distancing and stay at home as much as possible to avoid any possible exposure.
With over 60 mobile testing sites, Oklahomans should be able to be tested if they are showing symptoms. In order to find a mobile testing site in your area, you can call 211 or visit this link.
When it comes to unemployment in the state, officials with the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission say that they have been hit with a plethora of unemployment claims.
“Our staff is diligently working to administer these benefits as rapidly as possible,” said Robin Roberson, OESC Executive Director.
Roberson says four weeks ago, the agency was processing about 2,000 unemployment claims a week. Now, they’ve received about 135,000 claims.
She says that although the federal government hasn’t provided all of the guidance needed for them to follow the CARES Act, they are implementing the new guidelines as they come.
In addition to bringing back retired employees to help with the influx of claims, they have also added over 100 agents and a chat bot to help in the process.