Active coronavirus cases continued to drop steeply across Oklahoma as health officials announced another progression in the state’s vaccination phases for COVID-19.

Since peaking at more than 43,000 a month ago, active cases fell to 22,461 on Friday, according to the Oklahoma State Department of Health. That’s a drop of more than 47% in the past month. An active coronavirus case is a person who has tested positive in the past 14 days or is seeking treatment for COVID-19 in the hospital.

Gov. Kevin Stitt and health officials said Oklahoma will open up vaccinations to about 89,000 pre-kindergarten-12th grade teachers and support staff and residents of any age with comorbidities. Among the comorbidities are cancer, kidney disease, lung disease, heart conditions, obesity and smoking, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About 1 million Oklahomans, or one-third of the state’s adult population, has a comorbidity.

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“We have chosen an overlapping approach to Oklahoma’s COVID vaccination plan, meaning we will begin the next priority group prior to finishing the current one,” Deputy Health Commissioner Keith Reed said on Thursday. “This ensures we maintain proper momentum while accounting for the difficulty in predicting uptake rates and vaccine hesitancy. I do also want to emphasize that this portion of Phase Two will likely take some time to complete.”  

The new groups will be eligible to schedule appointments on Feb. 22. How quickly any of the new groups can be vaccinated will still be dependent on the supply of vaccines from the federal government. The Biden administration said Thursday it had exercised options to buy another 200 million doses of the two-shot Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, boosting supplies of those vaccines 50% from the 400 million originally ordered by the federal government. States are allocated vaccine supplies based on population and how quickly manufacturers can keep the supply pipeline full.

Active COVID-19 Cases By ZIP Code

Oklahoma health officials said they wanted to get PK-12 teachers and staff vaccinated by spring break. They asked local school administrators to work with their regional or county health officials to schedule vaccination events at schools or other district sites in the coming weeks.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister, who has continuously called for a statewide mask mandate in schools, welcomed the addition of teachers and support staff to the state’s vaccination rollout. Stitt has been resistant to a statewide mask mandate, including one for schools. The state Board of Education has recommended, but not required, masks in schools, preferring instead to let local school boards make the call.

“While in-person school is more dependent on COVID mitigation strategies such as masks and social distancing , ensuring the vaccination of teachers is vital to keeping school doors open,” Hofmeister said in a statement. (Story continues below)


Vaccine sites in Oklahoma

A map of all Oklahoma sites that have administered or are administering vaccines to the public. Addresses and business or location names are included.  

Source: Oklahoma State Department of Health

As concerns remain about some people jumping the line for vaccinations in the comorbidities group, Reed appealed to Oklahomans to do the right thing. The state’s online vaccination scheduling portal includes a check-off for residents to attest that they have a qualifying condition that is also a comorbidity for COVID-19. Health officials hope doctors or other providers will help patients in the large subgroup make those decisions on when to get the vaccine.

“They know their patients best,” Reed said. “That’s one of the reasons we want to get this within the healthcare system. That list we have is based off CDC recommendations that are known to really negatively impact someone with a positive case that can lead to increased hospitalizations or increased risk of death.”

Oklahoma is in line with national trends showing fewer new daily cases and hospitalizations, although COVID-19 deaths remain at elevated levels. By Friday, the state had recorded 3,959 deaths from the pandemic, including 412 deaths reported so far in February. Because death reports are a lagging indicator and require case investigations to confirm, some of those deaths may have happened in previous months.

The state’s 7-day rolling average of new daily coronavirus cases fell to 1,584 on Friday, down from a high of 4,256 in mid-January. With that, new active cases fell on a weekly basis across much of the state, according to an Oklahoma Watch analysis of ZIP code coronavirus data. Still, pockets of new cases were in ZIP codes in far southwestern Oklahoma in Mangum and Hollis, as well as other rural communities like Stonewall and Maud.

Apart from the weekly increases, several ZIP codes in larger communities continued to record high active case totals by Friday, including Lawton, Yukon, Broken Arrow, Moore and Ardmore. Each of the ZIP codes in those cities had more than 340 active cases. 

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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