Coronavirus hotspots emerged across the state in the past week as hospitalizations reached a new record since the pandemic began.
Active cases hit 24,091 on Friday, according to the latest tally from the Oklahoma State Department of Health. That represents an increase of 60% in just the past two weeks.
Hospitalizations for COVID-19 rose to 1,279 on Thursday, with 350 of those patients in an intensive care unit. The state’s recently revised hospital surge plan put three hospital regions in northwest and southwest Oklahoma and Oklahoma County into Tier 3 status. Three other regions in central Oklahoma, northeast Oklahoma and Tulsa County reached Tier 2 status. Each elevation of status means patient transfers and possible restrictions on non-emergency surgeries.
The worsening situation statewide hastened calls for Gov. Kevin Stitt to add a statewide mask mandate. The governor has consistently resisted such calls for a mandate, saying those decisions should be left to local communities and a statewide mandate would be hard to enforce.
Still, Stitt held a news conference on Tuesday in Oklahoma City imploring all Oklahomans to wear a mask. Also speaking were a parade of doctors from across the city, who said mask-wearing and social distancing were key components in slowing community spread so hospitals could treat the worst cases.
“Wearing a mask is not a sign of weakness or fear,” said Dr. Julie Watson, chief medical office for Integris Health. “It’s not a political statement. It’s an outward symbol that says, ‘I am contributing,’ ‘I am willing to do what it takes to help.’ And it’s also not about a mandate. The governor nor the government should have to tell us to do the right thing. We know better now, so we need to do better.”
Stitt said college students planning to return home from campus for Thanksgiving should get tested so they don’t unknowingly infect family members.
Among the fastest growing places with new active cases in the past week were ZIP codes in Yukon, Taft, Norman, Oklahoma City and Broken Arrow. Most of the Taft cases are at the Jess Dunn Correctional Center, which has seen a spike in prison infections.
As of Friday, ZIP codes in Yukon, Broken Arrow, Edmond, Oklahoma City and Norman all had more than 300 active coronavirus cases, according to an Oklahoma Watch analysis of health department data. Other hotspots were in Ada, Durant, Owasso and Lawton, representing significant community spread across a wide swath of the state.
Meanwhile, the State Board of Education voted on Thursday to renew a resolution encouraging schools meeting in person to require masks, rebuffing calls for a statewide school mask mandate.
To date, Oklahoma has recorded more than 147,000 cases of coronavirus, along with 1,493 deaths. The new cases reported so far in November are on track to exceed those from last month, which was the highest month so far in the pandemic.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Follow him on Twitter @pmonies.
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