Year in review: A look back at the arrival of COVID-19 in Oklahoma

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OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – It has been a year since the lives of Oklahomans turned upside down due to the coronavirus pandemic.

January 2020

WUHAN, CHINA - JANUARY 17: (CHINA OUT) Medical staff transfer patients to Jin Yintan hospital on January 17, 2020 in Wuhan, Hubei, China. Local authorities have confirmed that a second person in the city has died of a pneumonia-like virus since the outbreak started in December. (Photo by Getty Images)
WUHAN, CHINA – JANUARY 17: (CHINA OUT) Medical staff transfer patients to Jin Yintan hospital on January 17, 2020 in Wuhan, Hubei, China. Local authorities have confirmed that a second person in the city has died of a pneumonia-like virus since the outbreak started in December. (Photo by Getty Images)

At the start of 2020, the novel coronavirus had already started spreading across China as health officials warned that this new virus appeared to be able to transmit easily between people.

In one instance, 14 doctors and nurses operating on a patient unknown to be carrying the virus were all infected with it. Officials say that instance indicated just how serious the situation could become if the virus spread throughout the globe.

February 2020

Coffins are unloaded at the Ferrara cemetery, northern Italy, from a military convoy coming from Bergamo, a city at the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak in northern Italy on Saturday. The Bergamo's mortuary reached its maximum capacity and many victims of the epidemic are being cremated in other cities. (Massimo Paolone/LaPresse via AP)
Coffins are unloaded at the Ferrara cemetery, northern Italy, from a military convoy coming from Bergamo, a city at the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak in northern Italy on Saturday. The Bergamo’s mortuary reached its maximum capacity and many victims of the epidemic are being cremated in other cities. (Massimo Paolone/LaPresse via AP)

In February, Italy saw its first case of COVID-19 in a patient with no link to the outbreak in Asia. Just one day later on Feb. 21, Italy recorded its first known fatality from the virus- a 77-year-old retired roofer.

March 2020

Downtown Oklahoma City
Downtown Oklahoma City

By the beginning of March, COVID-19 had already started spreading across the globe.

Cases were popping up across the United States and local leaders said that although there were no known cases of COVID-19 in Oklahoma, plans were in place to prevent an outbreak.

“I just want to let Oklahomans know that we are prepared,” said Gov. Kevin Stitt on March 5.

A 3-D rendering of the coronavirus (Getty Images).
A 3-D rendering of the coronavirus (Getty Images).

One day later on March 6, leaders with the Oklahoma State Department of Health confirmed the first known case of COVID-19 in Oklahoma.

Stitt said that a Tulsa County man in his 50s, who had recently traveled to Italy, tested positive for the virus. The patient traveled back to Tulsa on Feb. 23 but didn’t actually become ill until Feb. 29. 

On March 11, the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Utah Jazz were supposed to go head-to-head at the Chesapeake Energy Arena.

However, the game was postponed just moments before tip-off after Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert received a presumptive positive test.

Photo goes with story
The Oklahoma City Thunder game against the Utah Jazz was suddenly postponed before tip-off Wednesday, March 11.

Fans were told to leave the arena, but learned that they were not at risk of catching COVID-19 since Gobert never actually entered the building.

However, several players had to be tested due to close contact with Gobert.

PHOENIX, ARIZONA - OCTOBER 28: Rudy Gobert #27 of the Utah Jazz reacts during the first half of the NBA game against the Phoenix Suns at Talking Stick Resort Arena on October 28, 2019 in Phoenix, Arizona. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
PHOENIX, ARIZONA – OCTOBER 28: Rudy Gobert #27 of the Utah Jazz reacts during the first half of the NBA game against the Phoenix Suns at Talking Stick Resort Arena on October 28, 2019 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Following the situation at the Chesapeake Energy Arena, the NBA quickly moved to suspend the season ‘until further notice.’

Charlotte Hornets coach James Borrego, speaking before his team’s game at Miami, said “these are scary times.”

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - MAY 31:  Oklahoma City Thunder mascot Rumble the Bison bangs a drum before the start of their Game Six against the San Antonio Spurs in the Western Conference Finals of the 2014 NBA Playoffs at Chesapeake Energy Arena on May 31, 2014 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
OKLAHOMA CITY, OK – MAY 31: Oklahoma City Thunder mascot Rumble the Bison bangs a drum before the start of their Game Six against the San Antonio Spurs in the Western Conference Finals of the 2014 NBA Playoffs at Chesapeake Energy Arena on May 31, 2014 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

“This is a global pandemic where people’s lives at stake,” Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban said. “I’m a lot more worried about my kids, and my mom is 82 years old, and talking to her, and telling her to stay in the house, than I am about when we play our next game.”

On March 12, the Tulsa Health Department announced that the first person to test positive for COVID-19 in Oklahoma had recovered from the virus.

As the number of COVID-19 cases started to grow across the state, officials with Oklahoma’s two largest universities took action to protect students from spreading the virus.

Although the state had just experienced its first case of the new virus, the situation took a dramatic turn on March 11.

Officials with the University of Oklahoma confirmed that the school would go ‘all digital’ for at least two weeks. Also, Oklahoma State University announced that students on the Stillwater and Tulsa campuses would be completing their classes online for two weeks.

Those closures lasted much longer than initially anticipated.

On March 13, Oklahoma County experienced its first presumptive positive COVID-19 case. The woman in her 60s had recently traveled to Florida before being diagnosed.

At the time, the state was still sending COVID-19 tests to the CDC in Atlanta to determine if a patients was sick with the virus. As a result, it was taking several days to a week to determine if someone had contracted the virus.

Also, the state was experiencing a shortage of testing supplies. As a result, doctors were prioritizing testing for individuals who met specific CDC guidelines.

By March 17, the state had recorded 17 confirmed cases of COVID-19.

Officials said that although the numbers seemed low, there was no real way to know exactly how many Oklahomans were infected by the virus.

“People are generally very terrible at assessing their own risk,” said Aaron Wendelboe, Ph.D., Epidemiologist, OU Hudson College of Public Health. “With regard to this epidemic, people may be tempted to think that this situation here is not that bad, only to realize that those numbers reflect, essentially, five to seven days out of date because the reported cases are just that. They’re reported and they’re known. They’re not the time they’re diagnosed, they’re not the time that their transmission was happening. All of that was happening days before and so people have a tendency to look at the numbers today and think that that’s their risk today. But it doesn’t reflect what is actually happening in the community right now.”

Gregg MacDonald holds hands with his 84-year-old mother, Chloe MacDonald, at a "hug tent" set up outside the Juniper Village assisted living center in Louisville, Colo., Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2021. The tent includes a construction-grade plastic barrier with built-in plastic sleeves to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. (AP Photo/Thomas Peipert)
Gregg MacDonald holds hands with his 84-year-old mother, Chloe MacDonald, at a “hug tent” set up outside the Juniper Village assisted living center in Louisville, Colo., Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2021. The tent includes a construction-grade plastic barrier with built-in plastic sleeves to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. (AP Photo/Thomas Peipert)

Gov. Stitt issued an executive order to encourage all Oklahomans to take appropriate measures by avoiding gatherings of 10 people or more. It also asked people to avoid discretionary travel.

He also encouraged businesses to allow workers to work from home rather than coming into the office.

Gov. Kevin Stitt discusses coronavirus preparations
Gov. Kevin Stitt discusses coronavirus preparations

“I know Oklahomans are hurting. A lot of them are anxious and fearful of the future, but I want Oklahomans to know that we will get through this,” said Gov. Stitt.

By March 19, officials announced the first death connected to COVID-19 in Oklahoma.

Health officials say the patient was a man in his 50s who tested positive for COVID-19 on March 17. He passed away due to complications on March 18.

On March 21, officials with the University of Oklahoma urged students who live on campus to move off campus to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

COVID-19 test
Photo: Getty

Less than a month after the first case of COVID-19 was detected in Oklahoma, Gov. Kevin Stitt ordered non-essential businesses to close and delayed all elective surgeries for 14 days.

OU campus

“We are gonna get through this. We’ve been in tough times before and together we are going to come out of this stronger,” Stitt said.

At the same time, Stitt issued a ‘safer-at-home’ order, asking all vulnerable populations across the state to stay at home and only go out in public for the essentials until April 30.

“By acting early, we are going to flatten that curve,” Stitt said.

April 2020

When Gov. Stitt announced plans to begin to reopen non-essential businesses across the state, many local leaders were concerned that Oklahoma was reopening too quickly.

Under the guidelines of the first phase of the reopening plan, personal care businesses like hair salons and spas could open on April 24 while following strict sanitation and social distancing rules.

Restaurants, movie theaters, and sporting venues could open to the public on May 1.

June 2020

After businesses reopened and some Oklahomans went back to their normal routines, cases began to creep upward across the Sooner State.

Stillwater Mayor Will Joyce warned that he was becoming increasingly concerned as the virus continued to spread in the community.

“This week alone, Stillwater has more new COVID cases than we had in March, April and May, combined. The second wave is here, and it’s spreading faster than the first,” Joyce posted on Facebook in June.

At the time, he said he was worried that it was just a matter of time before the virus led to a jump in hospitalizations.

“Even if you are young and healthy, you can catch COVID and you can spread COVID. You can give the disease to someone less resilient than you, and they can get very sick or even die,” he posted.

Health experts continued to stress the importance of staying true to precautions put in place, like social distancing and wearing a mask in public.

This electron microscope image made available and color-enhanced by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Integrated Research Facility in Fort Detrick, Md., shows Novel Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 virus particles, orange, isolated from a patient. (NIAID/National Institutes of Health via AP)
This electron microscope image made available and color-enhanced by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Integrated Research Facility in Fort Detrick, Md., shows Novel Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 virus particles, orange, isolated from a patient. (NIAID/National Institutes of Health via AP)

Despite warnings, Oklahoma began to see record-breaking case counts.

Oklahoma State Medical Association President George Monks wrote a strongly worded letter to the public as cases spiked.

“Oklahoma demonstrated early on we could manage our infection rates through proactive measures. Unfortunately, more than seven weeks after reopening began, most of the positive outcomes made during the early months of coronavirus have been erased by the growing number of large events coupled with a decreasing number of people who follow CDC guidelines.

The public has the information on how to impede the spread of this deadly virus: wear a mask in public; wash hands or use sanitizer often, and conduct social distancing, but too many people are still taking an “it’s not my problem” approach to the virus. Unfortunately, this is everyone’s problem. As we face this crucial tipping point, Oklahomans must decide if we’re going to move forward in the safest way possible or are we going to declare that the lives of those who have died from this disease are just not as important as our vanity.”

Dr. George Monks

July 2020

As cases climbed, so did hospitalizations and deaths.

In mid-July, Oklahoma recorded its first death of a child related to the virus.

Officials announced that a 13-year-old girl from Fort Sill with an autoimmune disorder passed away from COVID-19 at Comanche County Hospital.

On July 15, Gov. Kevin Stitt announced that he had tested positive for COVID-19.

Gov. Stitt tests positive for COVID-19

As COVID-19 cases continued climb throughout the country during the summer months, city leaders in Oklahoma City decided to take action.

“Of the top 50 largest American cities, 46* have a requirement to wear masks in indoor public places. Two-thirds of those requirements are the result of a mandate put in place by a Governor, but regardless of how they came to be, they set a standard for the individual behavior that is expected in order to keep our people safe and our cities open. Masks wearing in indoor public places is proven to dramatically reduce the rate of transmission, something we clearly need in Oklahoma City,” Oklahoma City Mayor David Holt posted at the time.

In July, the Oklahoma City Council passed its first face mask ordinance, which requires face masks to be worn in public places.

Face masks

September 2020

In September, a report released by the White House Coronavirus Task Force painted an alarming picture for the pandemic in Oklahoma.

At the time, Oklahoma remained among the worst states in the United States for positive coronavirus tests per 100,000 people and the number of new reported cases.

November 2020

Although many people were already getting tired of the pandemic, Oklahoma City Mayor David Holt warned that the state was headed for a ‘third wave’ as families and friends got together to celebrate the holidays.

New cases in November
New cases in November

“You have to assume that any room that you have entered this month in Oklahoma City that had more than 25 people in it almost surely had someone who was actively infected with COVID-19. The virus is everywhere,” Holt said on Nov. 19.

December 2020

After families gathered together for Thanksgiving, the number of COVID-19 cases across Oklahoma started to climb.

As a result, Gov. Kevin Stitt issued an executive order to limit indoor public gatherings to 50 percent capacity. However, he said the executive order did not apply to church services.

“This doesn’t apply to churches,” Stitt said. “But I want them to continue to innovate. Most of the churches I talked to are checking temperatures before the kids go into the nursery. Their workers are wearing masks. I encourage them to continue to innovate…to continue to offer online options [and] every other row [seating]. Just like all of our businesses are doing at this point, we need all Oklahomans stepping up the effort to help health care workers during this time.”

Photo goes with story
Gov. Kevin Stitt

Even though cases and deaths continued to climb in Oklahoma, Stitt held firm against a statewide mask mandate.

Stitt referenced Carnegie Mellon University data that he says shows Oklahoma went from 79 percent of Oklahomans wearing masks on Nov. 1 to more than 87 percent of Oklahomans wearing masks today.

“We’ve closed the gap with Alabama and Louisiana, and they’ve had mandates in place since this summer. You know, it’s not about magic words, it’s about Oklahomans doing their part to slow the spread of this virus,” Stitt said.

On December 11, the U.S. FDA approved the first COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use in the United States.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued an Emergency Use Authorization for the COVID-19 vaccine produced by New York-based Pfizer and German-based BioNTech.

Officials say this is the fastest-developed vaccine in history, but doctors said it is safe and the process of working toward EUA has been methodical.

“The FDA’s authorization for emergency use of the first COVID-19 vaccine is a significant milestone in battling this devastating pandemic that has affected so many families in the United States and around the world,” said FDA Commissioner Stephen M. Hahn said in a statement.

A medical staff member prepares the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at Tudor Ranch in Mecca, Calif., Thursday, Jan. 21, 2021. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
A medical staff member prepares the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at Tudor Ranch in Mecca, Calif., Thursday, Jan. 21, 2021. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

Shortly before Christmas, 89-year-old Frances Wantland became Oklahoma’s first long-term care resident to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.

A Lodge at Brookline resident receives the COVID-19 vaccine.
A Lodge at Brookline resident receives the COVID-19 vaccine.

“I’m just almost speechless when we are going around doing this right now. We finally have a message of hope,” Commissioner of Health Dr. Lance Frye said. “Really something we can do that’s going to make a difference. Every one of the vaccines can save lives.”

February 2021

On Feb. 5, 2021, state officials in Oklahoma confirmed the first known case of the Brazilian variant in the Sooner State.

At the time, Oklahoma State Epidemiologist Jared Taylor said it was “highly probable” that one or more variants are circulating in Oklahoma.

March 2021

Commuters wears masks as they leave a tube station in London, Thursday, Oct. 29, 2020. Around 100,000 people are catching the coronavirus every day in England, according to the latest Imperial College London study. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)
Commuters wears masks as they leave a tube station in London, Thursday, Oct. 29, 2020. Around 100,000 people are catching the coronavirus every day in England, according to the latest Imperial College London study. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)

Nearly one year after the first case of COVID-19 was reported in Oklahoma, health officials say cases continue to affect communities across the state.

On Thursday, data from the Oklahoma State Department of Health shows that the state has had 426,641 confirmed cases of COVID-19 since March of 2020.

State officials say they are now including the CDC’s number of COVID-19 deaths as a provisional count.

As a result of that inclusion, the deaths jumped to 7,122, compared to the 4,534 reported by the health department.

So far, the state reports that 546,004 Oklahomans have received their first dose of the vaccine, while 293,397 have completed both doses.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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