Twenty people in Tulsa County have recovered from COVID-19 as Oklahoma continues to see drastic increases in confirmed cases of the disease.
Tulsa Health Department officials announced that fact Friday. Meanwhile, four more people in Oklahoma have died from COVID-19, bringing the total to 38, and 32 more have been hospitalized, bringing that total to 289, according to Oklahoma State Department of Health data released Friday.
By Friday, 988 confirmed cases had been reported in the state.
“It’s important to understand that most people who become infected will experience mild symptoms and they will recover,” Tulsa Health Department Executive Director Bruce Dart said. “Some individuals … will probably require hospitalization because their illnesses will be more serious.”
Dart said it would be vulnerable populations — older people and those with compromised immune systems or other underlying medical conditions — who likely will have more serious symptoms. COVID-19 is disproportionately affecting older populations in Oklahoma. About three-fourths of the state’s deaths have occurred in people older than 65 years old.
The chief symptoms are fever, cough and shortness of breath. Some patients have reported a loss of smell.
Social distancing and home isolation remain the doctor’s orders even for those who have no symptoms, since a person can carry the virus for two to 14 days after exposure before symptoms show.
Three of the deaths reported Friday occurred in Tulsa County. The other occurred in Cleveland County. All four who died were women who were older than 65.
Of the 38 total deaths in Oklahoma, eight were in Tulsa County.
So far, three of the deaths in Tulsa County stemmed from community spread of the infection. Two people who died had links to confirmed cases. Others had traveled to previously affected areas or were still under investigation Friday.
Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum said Friday that, based on the available data, the Tulsa area is still in the early stages of the pandemic. Tulsa’s geographic location “in the middle of the country” benefited the region by enabling health officials and experts to glean lessons from what has occurred elsewhere, he said.
“We took action early because that’s what all of the public health guidance gave us — that the earlier you act, the better your odds are of having a health care system that can handle this,” Bynum said.
Testing is foundational for health care providers to determine who needs to be quarantined, Dr. Kimberly Martin, an OU-Tulsa pediatric infectious diseases specialist, said in an email to the Tulsa World.
“Regardless of testing, we should all be practicing social distancing and home isolation as this is going to help to prevent new cases of COVID-19,” she said.
National and international health officials have previously advised that social distancing and home isolation may be required for several months to significantly reduce infections, Martin said.
“While this information is being updated constantly, people need to know that these measures really do work,” Martin said.
At the end of March, Bynum issued a shelter-in-place order for the city. It applies to all citizens, prohibits social gatherings and will be enforced by the Tulsa Police Department. He said on March 28 that data indicated that the height of projected infection in Tulsa could come between mid-April and mid-May.
Bynum presented a scenario in which 20,000 people in the Tulsa metro area may need hospitalization in the next two months for COVID-19 alone.
On Thursday, Gov. Kevin Stitt declared a health emergency in the state for the next 30 days. The declaration gives him greater powers to waive statutory or regulatory requirements and the ability to coordinate a response among city and county health departments.
The declaration also gives Stitt the power to allow former health care professionals to rejoin the workforce quickly and protect first responders by helping them manage their personal protective equipment.
Interactive graphic: Oklahoma COVID-19 cases by county, age group