Active coronavirus cases continued their rapid growth in November, with the latest infections popping up in small prison towns and populated suburbs of Tulsa and Oklahoma City.
The number of active cases reached a new high on Friday at 30,724, more than double the number of active cases three weeks ago. There were just over 15,000 active cases on Oct. 30, according to the Oklahoma State Department of Health.
New cases so far in November have already surpassed those recorded for all of October, which was the previous high month of the pandemic. To date, 1,603 Oklahomans have died from COVID-19.
With cases and hospitalizations both rising, Gov. Kevin Stitt on Monday issued the first statewide restrictions since the state fully reopened in June. Bars must close by 11 p.m., and restaurants can stay open after that only for drive-thru or to-go orders. Restaurants also must have tables at least 6 feet apart or install plexiglass dividers. Stitt said employees and visitors must wear masks in state office buildings.
Meanwhile, mayors in Oklahoma City and Tulsa asked their residents to take a 10-day “pause” over Thanksgiving week to help stem the spread of the virus and lessen the strain on the healthcare system. That included avoiding large gatherings, ordering take-out and working from home if possible, along with the now-standard advice of wearing a mask, social distancing and washing hands. (Story continues below)
Track COVID-19 Cases By ZIP code
Taft, home to Jess Dunn Correctional Center, had the state’s highest weekly increase in active cases, according to an Oklahoma Watch analysis of ZIP code data from the health department. By Friday, there were 505 active coronavirus cases, an increase of 311 from Nov. 13. The Oklahoma Department of Corrections said 347 inmates at the prison had tested positive.
Inmate cases at James Crabtree Correctional Center also tipped Helena in Alfalfa County into hotspot status. The 73741 ZIP code had 95 active cases on Friday, up from just five a week earlier.
Other big weekly increases in active cases came in ZIP codes for Broken Arrow and Moore. Neither of those cities have mask mandates, and Stitt has consistently declined to issue a statewide mask mandate.
Active cases fell 16% this week. Reported COVID-19 deaths so far in January reached 698.
The rapid rate of active-case increases so far this month came in cities across the state. Among those with more than 300 active cases as of Friday were Yukon, Edmond, Norman, Owasso, Ada and Tahlequah.
The number of COVID-19 patients in Oklahoma hospitals hit a new high on Friday, with 1,505 people seeking treatment. That included 450 patients in intensive care units, also a new high. Five of the state’s eight hospital regions were in an elevated Tier 3 status, with another region in Tier 2 status. That means hospitals are likely transferring patients to less-burdened facilities and may curtail non-emergent surgery.
With Thanksgiving approaching, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued new guidance, cautioning against traveling for the holiday. If families do decide to include returning college students or others outside their household for Thanksgiving meals, the agency said as much of the gathering should be outdoors if possible and masks should be worn indoors.
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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