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Oklahoma's Medical Community Raises Hospital Capacity Concerns As COVID Infections, Hospitalizations Grow

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After a few weeks of consistent growth, Oklahoma’s COVID-19 spread has taken off.

New cases are up by more than 67% this week over the prior week, according to the Oklahoma State Department of Health’s latest epidemiological report. As of Thursday’s daily report, more than 10,000 Oklahomans currently have COVID.

State medical experts attribute the sharp increase to two things: the emergence of the Delta variant, which spreads much more rapidly, and Oklahoma’s low vaccination rate, which has plateaued at about 40%.

Throughout the spring and early summer, Oklahoma’s daily coronavirus hospitalizations lingered around 200. After increasing rapidly through July, they’ve now tripled.

More than 600 people are in the hospital and about a third of them are in the intensive care unit. That's caused Oklahoma's medical community to again sound concern for hospital capacity.

Dr. Mary Clarke, the president of the Oklahoma State Medical Association, noted that non-COVID demand for hospital space is already very high.

"There are a lot of hospitals already in Oklahoma that are on divert, which means they don't have inpatient space to allow ambulances to come to the emergency room," Clarke said.

Clarke is a physician in Stillwater. The hospital there, during the surge this winter, converted conference space to a non-COVID wing to shore up space for COVID-19 patients. That was possible only under an emergency order by the governor. Gov. Kevin Stitt announced last week he didn’t plan to issue another order.

As cases continue to spike, Clarke and other leaders are calling for that order, and for Oklahomans to prepare for renewed strain on hospitals. They’re reiterating that vaccination is one of the best tools to prevent the kind of spikes we saw over the winter.

Stitt's refusal to declare a state of emergency also means school districts and universities won’t have the legal permission to implement mask mandates.

Catherine Sweeney reports for StateImpact Oklahoma, focusing on health.
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