As OK COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths increase, so do frustrations with state’s response

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OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – Since the beginning of the pandemic, OU Medicine’s Dr. Dale Bratzler has spoken openly his expert assessment of the coronavirus pandemic, and suggestions for how people should respond to reduce the amount of infections and deaths.

His frustration about the state’s response has increased along with the number of Oklahomans infected and hospitalized.

During an interview Tuesday I asked him how he felt about the fact that some people believe he is an alarmist.

“If I’m an alarmist, so be it,” said Dr. Bratzler Tuesday, “but I will push back the other way and say I’m not sure that our leadership is being totally transparent about what’s really happening in or state because everybody wants it to be good, ‘We’re doing great,’ and that’s just not the case, and all you have to do is look at the numbers.”

The number of Oklahomans infected and needing hospital care frequently reaching record numbers in October.

As of Tuesday, 1,119 people in the state have died from the COVID-19.

A projection by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation puts the number of death just above 1,450 on Thanksgiving.

While Dr. Bratzler said he doesn’t fully trust the accuracy of death projections because there are so many unknown variables, he said he believes this number is possible.

“Since this pandemic began, we’ve been seeing 35 deaths per week every single week for 31 weeks if you average it out over the entire 31 weeks of the pandemic,” he said.

What’s more, without further social distancing mandates, he said the number of people infected will only continue to increase. It’s frustrating for him as he looks around at other states, like Arizona, where stricter measures resulted in better outcomes.

“Arizona was in the news a lot because of all the cases they had but they got it under control pretty quick, but they did some pretty aggressive things, and they controlled it,” Dr. Bratzler said.

He also pointed out the Oklahoma State Department of Health Weekly Epidemiology Report which now includes data on the impact mask mandates have when imposed in certain cities around Oklahoma.

“The state health department actually has a graphic now that shows if you wear masks, and your community has a mandate, you have less new cases of COVID-19 and yet we can’t mandate it in our state,” Dr. Bratzler said. “What I really think is that we’re dragging this out, something that we could have tamped down quite a while back. We just keep kind of dragging it out.”

Charlie Hannema, a spokesperson for Governor Kevin Stitt responded in a statement, saying, “Governor Stitt’s thoughts on a mask mandate haven’t changed – he encourages Oklahomans to wear one when around others but doesn’t feel a statewide mandate is a one-size-fits-all solution. As for Dr. Bratzler, he’s certainly entitled to his opinion, but I’d be curious his examples of places that have “tamped down the virus a while back” while also being open for more than 4 months without restrictions. In a perfect world, we’d have zero new cases, but our overall death rate has declined to 1.1%, and our per capita death rate is 57% lower than the national average and significantly lower than other states that are still shut down. The data shows Oklahomans are working together to protect our most vulnerable while minimizing the other harmful effects of a pandemic.”

Dr. Bratzler pointed out that the mortality rate, or the percentage of people dying across the country has gone down because more young people are now being affected, and treatment has improved.

However, even a 1.1% mortality rate is about 10 times higher than influenza.

“I believe some of those deaths could have been prevented if we did not just rely on ‘personal responsibility,’” Dr. Bratzler said. “I stand by my recommendation that we should mandate masks across the state because the case counts are very high now, hospitalizations are going up, and we are going to see more people in Oklahoma die from this disease.”

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