El Reno, McAlester and Broken Arrow had the biggest ZIP code increases in coronavirus infections in the past week as hospitalizations hit a new record in the state.

The total number of Oklahomans infected with the virus since March reached 105,308 on Friday, with the death toll reaching 1,154, said the Oklahoma State Department of Health.

Daily hospitalizations, meanwhile, reached their highest point in the pandemic on Thursday at 793, an increase of 27 percent since Oct. 1. The milestone accompanied reports of tight capacity for intensive care unit beds in the Oklahoma City area, largely related to staffing.

The Oklahoma Hospital Association said the state faced a shortage of nurses and health care professionals even before the pandemic. That’s been exacerbated as hospitals with infected employees adjust staffing schedules and private agencies have offered lucrative incentives for nurses to temporarily relocate to other areas of the country.

“To effectively manage hospital expenses, hospitals do not routinely staff empty beds on an ongoing basis,” the association said in a fact sheet issued Thursday. “Capacity is tight at times year-round even without a pandemic. As ICU needs arise, hospitals work to provide staff for more beds.”

To free bed space for COVID-19 patients, Gov. Kevin Stitt has said he could issue another executive order stopping hospitals from performing elective surgeries. But health department officials said the localized snapshots of tight ICU capacity don’t reflect the changing nature of hospital staffing throughout the day.

“OSDH is closely monitoring hospital capacity and working with hospitals to ensure they have the resources they need to give the best quality care to all Oklahomans,” said Matt Stacy, a consultant to the agency on hospital issues. “There are a lot of factors that can influence data on any given day, and we will continue to monitor hospitalizations closely to see if state intervention is required to ensure hospital beds are available to COVID patients who need them.”

The number of active cases also reached a new statewide high on Friday at 14,339. Among the top ZIP codes for active infections were those in Yukon, Broken Arrow, El Reno, Enid and Oklahoma City, according to an Oklahoma Watch analysis of health department data. ZIP codes in El Reno, McAlester and Broken Arrow had the largest weekly increases.

Health department officials said part of the increase in El Reno came from an outbreak of 115 cases at the federal correctional facility there.

Active prison infections continued to decline, although North Fork Correctional Center in Sayre remained on the Department of Corrections’ hotspot list on Friday. At that prison, 86 inmates and five staff members had active infections. To date, more than 4,100 inmates have tested positive for coronavirus and 20 have died from confirmed or suspected COVID-19.  

Oklahoma remained in the top 10 nationally for both test positivity and new cases per 100,000 people, according to the latest White House coronavirus task force report. Oklahoma had 190 new cases per 100,000 people in the week ending Oct. 11, compared to a national average of 100 cases per 100,000 people.

“Community spread continues in Oklahoma in both rural and urban areas,” the report said. “Mitigation efforts should increase to include mask-wearing, physical distancing, hand hygiene and avoiding crowds in public and social gatherings in private to stop the increasing spread among residents of Oklahoma.”

Paul Monies has been a reporter with Oklahoma Watch since 2017 and covers state agencies and public health. Contact him at (571) 319-3289 or pmonies@oklahomawatch.org.

Follow him on Twitter @pmonies. 


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Paul Monies

Paul Monies has been a reporter with Oklahoma Watch since 2017 and covers state agencies and public health. Contact him at (571) 319-3289 or pmonies@oklahomawatch.org. Follow him on Twitter @pmonies.