OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – Oklahoma health leaders called out Gov. Kevin Stitt’s administration and the state legislature during a Tuesday news conference, amid rising COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in the state.
One health professional even called the situation “dire.” Epidemiologist Aaron Wendelboe said doctors went as far as to say if Oklahoma continues on its current track, we could see peaks of COVID as bad as last October come this fall, which was months before the vaccine came out.
Due to this, as the school year inches closer, they said we could see more issues due to the delta variant. Wendelboe also discussed the issue of the pandemic becoming a political topic instead of a health problem.
He and other health professionals cited laws passed in this past legislative session that have made it more difficult to mitigate spread.
“Let the health professionals deal with the pandemic,” Wendelboe said. “When policy makers make laws that restrict our ability to respond to a pandemic then that makes it very difficult.”
Wendelboe called the current situation “grim.” Hospitalizations have tripled in the state over the past two weeks and, according to Wendelboe, two main contributing factors are low vaccination rates and the Delta variant.
“The hospitalization rates really point to evidence that the variant will potentially be a problem for children,” said Donna Tyungu, a pediatric infectious disease specialist.
Just a month left to go until the school year and Tyungu said we may be headed toward problems. Hospitalizations among kids ages 0 to 18 have not been decreasing.
“All children should just wear a mask and be safe,” Tyungu said.
Tyungu said in-person classes are very important. However, they could be vectors for spreading the disease, with the Delta variant making it much worse. In Oklahoma alone, nearly 62,000 kids 17 and under have contracted COVID. The 15-24 age group has had the highest number of cases in the state with more than 81,000 confirmed. Out of those cases, 12 have died.
“Children may not die, but they may have to go through a very traumatic and dramatic hospitalization, including needing oxygen,” Tyungu said.
Tyungu said kids are not invincible. They can be subject to several complications or prolonged symptoms after hospitalization. Other doctors in the news conference said the Delta variant could turn the pandemic into an endemic. Doctors like Mary Clarke, president of the Oklahoma State Medical Association, said that means it becomes very hard for them to get rid of it and it could be a part of our lives for years to come.
“We are not in a sprint,” Clarke said. “We are in a marathon.”
As of right now, a bill signed by Stitt prohibits schools from requiring vaccines or masks for unvaccinated students. KFOR reached out to the governor’s office for comment on the statements made in the news conference. We did not hear back.