OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – Health experts across Oklahoma are setting off alarm bells after a dramatic jump in the number of coronavirus cases in the state.
Since Saturday, Oklahoma has reported 6,704 new COVID-19 cases. In all, 2197 of those cases were reported on Monday.
Right now, there are 1,102 people in the hospital with either a confirmed or suspected case of COVID-19.
In the state, there are only 62 ICU beds available in Oklahoma. According to EMSA, there are no ICU beds available in Tulsa.
“I knew that Tulsa was getting very close to their capacity yesterday. Parts of the state, Stillwater, I’m told ran out of beds earlier this week. As we’ve expected, there’s going to be the need to move patients around to find available beds. The Oklahoma City metro yesterday did have some ICU capability still available. I know OU Medicine is opening up additional beds to take care of COVID patients, but we really need people to take personal responsibility now to slow the spread of this virus,” said Dr. Dale Bratzler, OU’s Chief COVID Officer.
For months, Gov. Kevin Stitt has said he will not issue a mask mandate in the state.
On Monday, Commissioner of Health Col. Lance Frye said that even if a mask mandate was in place, he doesn’t believe many people would follow the order.
“Do we have independent people in the state of Oklahoma that believe in their freedom so much that they will do something the opposite you tell them to do?” Frye asked. “My answer is absolutely we do have those people in Oklahoma.”
However, Dr. Bratzler says a mask mandate could end up saving lives.
“I believe that most Oklahomans, most Oklahomans, if explained why we need to do it by our leadership, I think they will. I think most people will follow the rules. I heard another governor in another state that issued a mask mandate and said, ‘I acknowledge that there are going to be some people who just won’t do it. I get it. But most of our residents will follow the rules if we explain why and how important it is.’ So I still think it’s an important step to issue a mask mandate for the entire state. Let’s get through that. Let’s quit dragging this out. Let’s try to slow down the spread of the virus,” he said.
Right now, Oklahoma’s positivity rate is higher than Texas’, even though Texas has a much larger population. However, experts say Oklahoma is also testing more people for COVID-19.
“So there are lots of different ways to measure the positivity rate. The way I do it is I just look at all of the tests that are run in Oklahoma every day and the percent of those tests that came back positive. I’ve been monitoring that since the start of the pandemic. Yesterday was the highest percent positive test rate I’ve ever seen. We did, the state health department reported 26,000 specimens that were tested yesterday. 19.2% of those tests were positive, which is incredibly high,” Bratzler said. “Remember all the way back on May 25th when we had really slowed down the spread of the virus. Only 1.8% of the specimens tested were positive at that time. So a high positive rate tells me the virus is being transmitted in the community setting. A lot of people out there that are infected.”
Dr. Bratzler says the positivity rate is the early warning sign of the direction that we’re going.
“Because as that positivity rate starts to fall, we’ll see our case counts come down also,” he said.
Instead, Bratzler says that Oklahoma actually needs to increase its testing rate.
“Well certainly doing more tests but one of the metrics that shows that you’re doing enough tests is the positivity rate. If you’re doing enough tests, more tests, you would expect the positivity rate to go down. In fact, that’s just the opposite of what’s happening in Oklahoma. We’ve actually come down a little bit for the past two weeks in the number of tests, and we’re doing a lot, but we certainly need to test more. I’m looking forward to some lower cost, easy to run tests that we can deploy across the state and the state health department is getting ready to do that. We need to do more tests, identify people that are infected, get them isolated so they quit spreading the virus,” he said.
On Monday, Pfizer said an early peek at its vaccine data suggests the shots may be 90% effective at preventing COVID-19, indicating the company is on track later this month to file an emergency use application with U.S. regulators.
“I think that we will have a vaccine available reasonably soon. And I think what will happen is healthcare workers, frontline people, paramedics, and others first then go to the elderly, nursing home residents. Those people who are at high risk of complications of the disease,” he said.