Health officials hope to get back on track in the state’s coronavirus vaccine rollout after a week of frigid temperatures and harsh winter weather caused widespread cancellations across Oklahoma.

The state remains on schedule to open vaccines on Monday to teachers, staff and Oklahomans of any age with comorbidities, said Keith Reed, deputy commissioner at the Oklahoma State Department of Health. Combined, those two groups total 1.1 million people.

“This weather has created some frustrations and concerns for vaccine distribution and viability across the country,” Reed said Thursday in a vaccine briefing. “But I want to reassure you that our team is working incredibly hard to avoid any significant vaccine waste. Our team prepared in advance for the challenges the weather might bring.”

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The health department has temperature monitoring systems and backup generators in most of the facilities housing vaccines across the state, he said. Additionally, on-call staff can quickly move the vaccine to a secondary site if needed.

To make up for weather-related appointment cancellations, county health departments will hold additional clinics over the weekend to focus on the 65 and older age group, particularly those who might have missed their second doses. More than 750,000 people have registered at the state’s vaccination website.

Reed said the state expects to get 137,000 doses of vaccine from the federal government next week. To date, more than 477,000 Oklahomans have received at least one dose of the two-shot vaccines from Pfizer or Moderna.

The virus is still circulating across the state, but the state’s 7-day rolling average of new daily cases fell below 1,000 on Friday for the first time since mid-September. Some of the decline likely came from delays in testing and lab reporting during the cold snap, but it has been trending down for several weeks now.

The death toll from COVID-19 hit 4,132 on Friday, with another 20 reported deaths. Almost 40% of the state’s deaths have come in January and February, although case investigations and death certificate filing delays can contribute to a lag in death reporting.

More than 16,400 Oklahomans had active cases of coronavirus, a decline of 27% from a week ago. An active case is someone who tested positive in the last 14 days or is seeking treatment in the hospital for COVID-19.

Just a handful of rural towns showed increases in active cases in the past week, according to an Oklahoma Watch analysis of ZIP code data from the health department. They included Checotah, Verden and Red Rock. Large declines in active cases came in ZIP codes in previous weeks’ hotspots, including Ardmore, Broken Arrow and Yukon.

ZIP codes in Moore, Lawton and Yukon had the top active cases on Friday, with the 73160, 73505 and 73099 ZIP codes each at more than 250 active cases.

Daily hospitalizations continued to decline from their highs near 2,000 in early January. There were 693 patients seeking treatment for COVID-19 on Friday, with 203 of them in intensive care unit beds. About 13% of all patients in Oklahoma hospitals had COVID-19, a level not seen since before the most recent hospitalization surge that started in November. On some days in January, almost one-third of all patients in hospitals were being treated for COVID-19.  

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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