OU Med doctor advocates for masks, criticizing reporting and analysis of virus

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OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – A top OU Medicine doctor has come out in favor of a mask mandate, saying the reporting and analysis of COVID-19 numbers in Oklahoma haven’t conveyed the seriousness of the current situation.

Dr. Dale Bratzler, DO, is the OU Medicine Enterprise Chief Quality Officer, and he’s been following the numbers closely, even pressing the state to include more detailed reporting of numbers in its daily and weekly COVID-19 situation updates.

He’s critical of the argument that there are enough available beds to handle sick patients, the basis the state and governor return to for not mandating social distancing practices, including closures and wearing masks.

“It’s not an acceptable reason not to do more around mitigation,” Dr. Bratzler said.

This week, the state is seeing on average of 575 new cases each day. While testing has increased, so has the percentage of people testing positive.

On Thursday, Gov. Kevin Stitt announced that rate is 5.2 percent.

But according to Dr. Bratzler, that figure is based on all tests performed since the start of the pandemic.

His findings, which are based on daily and weekly tests, show the rate for this week is 9.7 percent. On Tuesday, when 5,766 tests were reported, he found 10.9 percent of those were positive. (The Oklahoma State Department of Health began reporting the weekly average rate of positive testing at Dr. Bratzler’s urging.)

These are a dramatic increase from 1.8 percent, the rate the week of May 25, a couple weeks after the state began to reopen.

He’s also alarmed to see that since the last week of June, the number of people 65 years and older is also increasing.

“Exactly what we were concerned would happen. If you have a lot of young people test positive that are mobile and social, then eventually they will interact with older people,” he said, “and the older people now are starting to come up as new cases.”

On Thursday, there were 487 hospitalized COVID-19 patients, not quite as many as there were during the peak on April 8 (481 patients).

Of the patients on Thursday, however, 361 – “Which is a very high number,” Dr. Bratzler said – were confirmed COVID-19 cases. The others were “Persons Under Investigation” or PUIs. Back on the peak in April, only 188 were confirmed cases.

This is a number he said people need to pay attention to.

“If you’re in the hospital, you’re usually very sick,” he said, “and more than half of the patients who are in the hospital in Oklahoma with a confirmed test are in the intensive care unit.”

In a press conference Thursday, Commissioner of Health Col. Lance Frye and Gov. Stitt assured Oklahomans that hospital capacity is in good shape.

“Hospitals like to run as close to 100 percent capacity as they can at all times, so they flex staffing based on that,” said Col. Frye.

KFOR reached out to him for clarification on that comment Friday morning, but he has not responded.

Dr. Bratzler stressed that while it would be beneficial for a hospital to be full of people seeking elective procedures, a hospital full of very sick or trauma patients is a different story.

“Honestly, we don’t want to fill up our beds with COVID-19 patients,” he said.

That’s why he said masks should be required.

“I actually strongly agree that we should mandate masks at this point because we’re seeing such unmitigated spread of the virus,” said Dr. Bratzler.

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