Tulsa Health Department Executive Director Bruce Dart provided city councilors Wednesday with a ton of facts and figures on the state of COVID-19 in Tulsa County. But his message to the public was simple: Get vaccinated.
“Vaccine is our No. 1 preventive tool,” Dart said.
Tulsa County is the third-most vaccinated county in the state, Dart said, with 52.5% of eligible people — those 12 years of age and older — fully vaccinated and 61% having received at least one dose.
To reach herd immunity, at least 75% of eligible county residents need to be vaccinated, and Dart said that needs to happen sooner rather than later.
“I do realize that some people cannot be vaccinated. We get that,” Dart said. “But most people can, and to truly get to where we are going to stop this, (we have) to get our herd immunity up to stop giving the virus the opportunity to spread.”
Spreading it is, mostly in the form of the highly contagious delta variant, which Dart said is believed to account for approximately 90% of new cases.
“From July 6 to today, we are seeing a 415% increase (in COVID cases) in a single month,” Dart said. “That means if we see this kind of growth again next month, we would have over 7,700 cases in August, which is more than 1% of our entire population testing positive in one month.
“And then if we continue to see this kind of growth in cases, we are on track in August to be back at the daily number of cases we saw in February of this year, and all remember February.”
Young people are being hit hardest, Dart said, with the 18-35 age group accounting for 36% of new cases from July 4 through July 24 and the 36-49 age group accounting for 21.4% of new cases. The 65-and-older age group made up just 10.6% of new cases, in part because of their high vaccination rate of 83%.
Dart did not call for renewal of the city’s mask mandate or propose any citywide regulations to stem the spread of the delta variant. He instead encouraged people to take a common-sense, layered approach to suppressing the virus.
“If we had had the same vaccine rates in May, June and July that we had had previously, we wouldn’t be here today,” Dart said. “We have got to get our vaccination rates up over 75% but continue to take this layered approach to it with (the) vaccine, masks, and hand washing if we are truly going to get past this.”
In response to a question from a city councilor, Dart said he believes some local hospitals are out of ICU beds.
“It is hard to say because it changes every day,” Dart said. “Monday we had some; yesterday we didn’t. I’m not sure what today is.”
Adding to the problem, Dart said, is that hospitals might not have the personnel necessary to expand their bed capacities if Gov. Kevin Stitt issued an emergency declaration clearing the way for them to do so.
“I’ll be very honest: Hospitals have lost staff since this all started,” Dart said. “We are down 25 people at the Health Department; we lost 13 nurses. Hospitals are in the same situation, and I am not sure they have the capacity to set these (extra units) up, to be perfectly honest.”
Mayor G.T. Bynun said last week that the No. 1 data point he looks at when considering citywide measures to combat the spread of COVID-19 is the hospitalization rate because his primary goal is to ensure that hospitals are in a position to care for those in need.
He also said he has not been asked by any hospital or health care leaders to implement any kind of citywide ordinance to address the growing number of COVID cases.
Bynum’s office said Wednesday that he had not heard anything different from local health care providers since making his comments last week.
Dart said stopping the spread of the virus is more important than it’s ever been because the delta variant is so highly contagious.
“Every time the virus attaches to an infected individual, it sheds viral particles, and in that shedding there are possible DNA shifts or drifts, and that is what creates the variants, and that is where you get delta,” Dart said.
“And so can you imagine a variant even more virulent than delta? We have the potential if we can’t stop the virus from transmitting, and that’s really what keeps me up at night.”
Featured video: COVID July 13 update from Bruce Dart: Tulsa metro at higher risk into late July