The state on Tuesday evening reported a record number of ICU hospitalizations for COVID-19, and Tulsa health officials are all but certain that the county will surpass a milestone Wednesday when cumulatively 3% of the county’s population will have tested positive for the novel coronavirus since the pandemic began.
Bruce Dart, the Tulsa Health Department’s executive director, acknowledged that the grim milestone will be reached Wednesday unless the county sees fewer than 27 new cases reported that day. He noted that 1% of the population had tested positive by July 20 and 2% by Aug. 20.
“We know the true number of cases in Tulsa County is much more than the number of confirmed positive test results, but this is a milestone,” Dart said.
He noted that the county’s 14-day, 30-day and 60-day trends all are increasing, as is its seven-day rolling average of daily cases. The county is about where it was before the large spike in cases in July, which prompted the city’s mask mandate.
And while overall COVID-19 hospitalizations were down slightly Tuesday at 749 from Monday’s record of 760, the state saw the number of COVID patients in ICU rise to a new record of 289. The previous peak was 281 patients in ICU on April 2.
In September, Dart said, the five highest-risk settings with the most associated cases in order were: K-12 schools; health care; food service facilities; long-term care facilities and nursing homes; and dorms and college housing.
He said October is showing a similar breakdown, except that correctional facilities now are in the top three after a Tulsa County jail outbreak was announced Tuesday.
“The data is clear that wearing a mask, watching our distance and washing our hands remain the best defense to slow the spread of COVID-19,” Dart said. “Let’s be proactive. Don’t wait until our hospitals are full to take action.
“Let’s take action now. Let’s work together to protect our most vulnerable, and let’s follow all these simple steps — these easily doable steps — to keep safe.”
Mayor G.T. Bynum said he isn’t comfortable with the level of hospitalizations occurring, so he’s going to visit with Dart, hospital administrators and city councilors about the potential for additional local measures to reduce the spread of COVID-19.
“The level of hospitalizations that I’m seeing, especially over the last week where we’re getting to, is not a safe level for us as a city,” Bynum said. “As I’ve said before, I think here in Tulsa the citizens of Tulsa have taken several steps to address that, which haven’t been embraced by other communities in Tulsa County.”
Bynum said he wants better insight into and understanding of the situation before potentially taking action. He said he doesn’t have a timeline or specific details to share at this point but that “I’m fairly certain that something has to change” because of the upward trends.
He highlighted that the city’s mask ordinance drove down cases and hospitalizations from a rapidly escalating peak in late July and early August, but he noted that the past two or three weeks have revealed a steady increase in cases and hospitalizations in Tulsa.
The mayor said other municipalities or Gov. Kevin Stitt should pass a mask mandate, noting that Cherokee Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. also recently laid out reasons for statewide masking.
“I think a lot of the hospitalizations that we’re seeing right now are a factor of us not having the level of mask compliance in other communities that you would see here in Tulsa,” Bynum said.
Cumulatively as of Tuesday, 19,473 cases have been confirmed in Tulsa County, with 180 deaths. There were 2,148 active cases, a record over the 2,112 on Saturday. The seven-day rolling average of new cases was 184, below the peak of 240 on Aug. 1.
Dart said Tulsa County hospitals are “in good shape” but that it won’t last if people don’t practice the three Ws: wear a mask, watch your distance from others and wash your hands.
He noted that Tuesday in Tulsa 33 ICU beds were available, as well as 133 medical-surgical beds. As of Monday’s data, he said, there were about 183 COVID-19 hospitalizations in Tulsa County.
“At this juncture we’re in good shape — we’re in good shape as far as staffing,” Dart said. “But if people don’t continue to be vigilant, of course it will be something for us to be worried about because this is what happens when we’re not being safe.”
On Friday, four Tulsa ZIP codes turned red on the Tulsa Health Department’s hazard map. The increase in cases in one of them, 74103, is attributable to an outbreak at the Tulsa County jail.
Dart said his team needs another couple of days to comb through data from the other three red zones — 74050, 74131, 74134 — to try to figure out what is causing the increase in cases there.
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