OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – State health leaders expressed more concern Wednesday about the spread of the Delta variant in Oklahoma amid rising COVID-19 numbers.
In just the past day, 20 Oklahomans were admitted to the hospital. Many of the cases driven by the highly contagious Delta variant. It’s the same variant being blamed for an influx of cases in Springfield, Mo. A hospital there ran out of ventilators to treat COVID-19 patients this week amid an influx of patients. The concern among health leaders is that Oklahoma may experience a similar surge and other hospital issues. Dr. George Monks, former president of the Oklahoma State Medical Association, said Oklahoma is likely three to six weeks behind what is happening in Missouri.
More than half of new cases since the start of July are the delta variant according to Jolianne Stone, Oklahoma’s state epidemiologist. Now, there’s a fear of a third wave as health officials point to Oklahoma’s COVID-19 metrics, which they say are moving in the wrong direction.
“This is really a canary in the coal mine, this is our red flag that things are different,” Monks said. “This is a serious situation and really it’s a wakeup call.”
The Delta variant doing a number on our neighboring state of Missouri is what brought out concern among state health leaders.
“They’re really ground zero for this Delta-driven variant driving cases of COVID,” Monks said. “We expect that will probably happen in Oklahoma.”
Monks, Stone and University of Oklahoma Chief COVID-19 Officer Dr. Dale Bratzler were among some of them to comment on Oklahoma’s situation Wednesday.
“The World Health Organization has described the Delta variant as the fastest and the fittest of the COVID variants that are out there,” Bratzler said.
“This delta variant is really going to be hitting us hard in a few weeks,” Monks said. “It will find you.”
Monks sent a series of tweets about the situation in Missouri and about what could happen in Oklahoma. The full thread can be seen by clicking here. In one tweet, he said this is Oklahoma’s “the British are coming” moment. Monks also points to Oklahoma’s metrics and said that hospitalizations, active cases, percentage of positive tests and ICU admissions are all increasing. In another tweet he said, “we cannot simply whistle past the graveyard and ignore the reality that this third COVID-19 wave driven by the delta variant is a clear and present danger to Oklahomans.”
“We’re going to start see some individual hospitals come under strain,” Monks said.
Also chiming in was Oklahoma City Mayor David Holt. He said in part that if you have held out on the vaccine, you probably need new information to act. He said in the tweet that “the situation in Springfield is that new info.”
Oklahoma’s state epidemiologist Jolianne Stone says the spread of the Delta variant is mostly to blame for rising cases in northeast Oklahoma.
“That seems to follow the trend that we’ve seen over the last couple weeks,” Stone said. “They are seeing more cases of this particular variant in areas that vaccination rates may be lower than other areas.”
The Delta variant brings twice the risk of being hospitalized to people who are unvaccinated. Less than half of Oklahoma’s population is fully vaccinated at around 1.5 million people. Now, it’s a waiting game to see what takes place.
“This is a very dangerous variant, it’s the most infectious variant we’ve seen, it’s more infectious than smallpox,” Monks said. “You have a choice; you can go out and get vaccinated or you can get the infection and undergo natural immunization. But the risk of getting COVID far outweigh the risks of getting your vaccine.”
Bratzler said ventilators shouldn’t be a problem for hospitals in the state, even amid rising metrics. Stone though, said the state’s vaccination rates have been stagnant for the past couple of months. She also said there are conversations in the beginning stages at the state level regarding strategies to encourage people to get vaccinated.