New outbreaks of coronavirus popped up in the past week in Shawnee, Edmond and Oklahoma City as Oklahoma ends October with the highest number of reported deaths so far in the pandemic.

To date, 1,326 Oklahomans have died from COVID-19, according to the latest tally from the Oklahoma State Department of Health. With one day left in October, the month has already recorded 295 deaths, surpassing the 259 deaths reported in September.

(The health department has declined to provide date of death for each COVID-19 fatality, so it is unclear if all of October’s reported deaths were in October.) 

Oklahoma ranked 19th in the White House’s ranking of new COVID-19 deaths per 100,000 people in the week ending Oct. 25. The virus has disproportionately affected Oklahomans older than 65, and especially those with underlying health conditions like heart disease, diabetes or lung failure. As of Friday, 1,066 Oklahomans older than 65 had died from COVID-19, or 80 percent of the total death toll. Another 167 deaths came in the 55-64 age group.  

Oklahoma also ends the month with more than 34,000 new cases of coronavirus, making October the top month for infections. Since the virus was first recorded in March, there have been more than 121,000 cases across the state. More than 105,000 people have recovered.

In the past week, hotspots emerged in Shawnee, Edmond and Oklahoma City, according to an Oklahoma Watch analysis of new active cases by ZIP code. The 74804 ZIP code in Shawnee had 81 new cases since Oct. 23, for a total of 194 active cases by Friday. Other large increases came in the 73013 and 73012 ZIP codes in Edmond and the 73120 and 73129 ZIP codes in Oklahoma City.

Meanwhile, ZIP codes in Yukon, Boley, El Reno, Edmond and Broken Arrow each had more than 200 active cases as of Friday, according to the analysis. The outbreaks in Boley and El Reno were partly from infections at state and federal prisons.

The health department this week provided more details on its revised surge plan for hospitalizations related to COVID-19. Three consecutive days of elevated COVID-19 admissions in a hospital region triggers certain requirements on hospitals, including selective reductions in elective surgeries and transfer of patients to less burdened hospitals.

The department will issue regional hospitalization reports twice each week with the latest numbers of specialized bed capacity and occupancy for COVID-19 and non-COVID patients.

“This will help account for anomaly days, give us a more accurate view of trends and better accounts for the normal ebb and flow of patients in and out of the hospital,” the agency said in a press release.

So far, only the Oklahoma County region is in Tier 2 under the new surge plan. That region has been in an elevated status since Oct. 20. There were 268 COVID-19 patients in the hospital in Oklahoma County as of Thursday. That represented more than 15% of all patients in hospitals in the region.

But Tulsa County health officials on Friday warned residents the area faces a “critical tipping point” if behaviors don’t change with respect to COVID-19 and as flu season ramps up.

“I have concerns about groups of people gathering indoors for prolonged lengths of time,” Bruce Dart, executive director of the Tulsa Health Department, said in a news release. “We are losing the battle against COVID in Oklahoma, in both rural and metropolitan areas. As cases continue to rise, increases in hospitalizations and deaths always follow this type of surge.” 

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.