State health officials on Tuesday reported another single-day high for new COVID-19 cases in Oklahoma.
There were 993 new, confirmed cases of the potentially deadly disease, according to Oklahoma State Department of Health data. Each new case represents one unique individual, regardless of how many times they have been tested or received positive results, a Tulsa Health Department spokeswoman said.
Officials in Gov. Kevin Stitt’s office and at the Oklahoma State Department of Health did not return requests for comment Tuesday. Stitt has remained resolute in not mandating masks in public. However, mask mandates have been implemented or are being considered in cities around the state.
Mayor G.T. Bynum announced last week that an ordinance for face masks would be introduced to the City Council this week. Masks and cloth face coverings are a preventative measure encouraged by health experts to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
“The mask mandate is not the last option,” Bynum said during a COVID-19 briefing on July 8. “The last option is to start rolling back and ultimately going back to shelter-in-place, like we were a few months ago.
“The mask is the interim measure.”
Some municipalities across the state, including Norman and Stillwater, are mandating the wearing of masks in public. Councilors in Oklahoma City also are evaluating ordinances requiring face coverings in most public places.
Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation President Dr. Stephen Prescott said in a statement that masks serve as a way to protect fellow Oklahomans.
“If we wear masks in large enough numbers, it greatly reduces the spread of the virus,” said Prescott, a physician and medical researcher. “That’s not a political statement. That is a medically proven fact.”
State Rep. Jason Lowe, D-Oklahoma City, who tested positive for coronavirus in March, urged Stitt on Tuesday to issue a statewide mask mandate amid the surge in cases.
“As a COVID-19 survivor, seeing the rapid rise in cases is alarming,” Lowe said in a statement. “Oklahomans must know that the pandemic is far from over and that we still must do what we can to protect ourselves and our community.
“I urge Governor Stitt to follow in the steps of fellow governors and put the health and safety of Oklahomans first and mandate that masks be worn in public spaces and private businesses.”
In Tulsa County on Tuesday, state health officials reported 181 new COVID-19 cases. The county’s seven-day rolling average was slightly tempered to 155, down 11 from the previous day. The state’s seven-day rolling average as of Tuesday was 645, another new high.
Two of the latest deaths were in Tulsa County. One was a woman in the 18-35 age group. The other was a man in the 50-64 age group. A McCurtain County man and an Oklahoma County woman, both older than 65, also died recently from the disease, according to state health officials. Further details about the recently reported deaths in Tulsa County were not immediately available.
There have been 428 COVID-19 deaths in Oklahoma since late March, and 21,738 confirmed cases since early March.
Across the state, 561 patients are hospitalized; the high for Oklahoma is 562 hospitalizations, which occurred on March 31, according to executive order reports. Of those currently hospitalized, 231 patients are in ICUs with 105 under investigation for the virus. Adult ICU capacity is at 21% statewide, according to a survey of hospital bed availability. The state’s overall positive percentage rate rose to 5.5%.
COVID-19 is most commonly spread through respiratory droplets, so public health officials encourage people to wear a mask or cloth face covering and to stay at least 6 feet from people who don’t live with them.
OMRF immunologist Dr. Eliza Chakravarty said masks can serve another valuable function.
“Wearing a mask helps remind you to follow social distancing rules and generally keeps you more aware,” Chakravarty said. “You’re more likely to stay away from others, wash your hands and avoid touching your face.”
Masks are vital when social distancing is difficult. A snug fit that covers the mouth and nose is the most effective, according to public health officials. In addition, people should avoid being in group or mass gatherings.
Frequent and thorough handwashing with soap and water or use of hand sanitizer also can help prevent the spread of the disease, health experts say.
Those seeking to be tested for COVID-19 may find resources on the Oklahoma State Department of Health’s website, where testing sites are listed by county.
Interactive graphic: See number of active COVID-19 cases by county
COVID-19 basics everyone needs to know as the pandemic continues