Even as the first Oklahomans received doses of a new COVID-19 vaccine this week, public health officials warned the state not to ease up on efforts to mitigate the coronavirus as case levels remained high. 

More than 32,000 Oklahomans had active cases of coronavirus as of Friday, down from a high of 35,000 earlier in the week. An active case is an infected person who is either seeking COVID-19 treatment in the hospital or has had a positive test in the past 14 days.

To date, more than 251,000 Oklahomans have tested positive for coronavirus. The death toll from COVID-19 stood at 2,161 on Friday, with more than 400 deaths reported in December. 

The rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine dominated the headlines and was a rare bright spot for many front-line health care workers who are among the first to get the vaccine from Pfizer. Another vaccine from Moderna is close to gaining final approval from federal regulatory authorities.

“I’m not just doing it for me. I’m doing it for you and your families,” said Hannah White, an ER nurse at Integris Baptist Medical Center’s Portland Avenue campus in Oklahoma City and among the first to get the vaccine in the state outside of clinical trials.

By Friday, more than 2,200 people had received COVID-19 vaccinations in the state, said Keith Reed, deputy commissioner at the Oklahoma State Department of Health. That was likely an undercount as vaccine providers have 24 hours to file vaccine information into the state’s vaccination tracking system. The vaccine had reached people in 50 of the state’s 77 counties by Friday, he said. 

Oklahoma has a four-phase plan to distribute future doses of the vaccine. Officials said the timelines will be determined by federal shipments of the vaccine and how many people in each subgroup decide to take the vaccine. Gov. Kevin Stitt and the health department made some key changes to the plan on Thursday when they moved PreK-12 teachers and support staff up to Tier 2 from Tier 3.  

“We like to keep options on the table because that allows us to be flexible,” Reed said of the vaccine rollout in coming months. “We want to be nimble. We want to be able to adapt to what the resources are locally and what the opportunities are locally to be very efficient.” 

A weekly snapshot of active cases shows several small towns and cities with the highest increases. Among them are ZIP codes in Tahlequah, Helena, Ardmore and Muskogee, according to an Oklahoma Watch analysis of health department data. Active cases declined in scores of other ZIP codes. The largest drop was in Taft, where there was a recent virus outbreak at Eddie Warrior Correctional Center.

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

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