The first confirmed case of the new coronavirus in Oklahoma is a Tulsa County resident who recently traveled to Italy, state officials announced in a Friday news conference.
The man, who is in his 50s, is recovering at home, isolated along with his family. Officials repeatedly emphasized there is no evidence of “community” spread here and that the risk to the general population remains low.
Gov. Kevin Stitt offered perspective on the situation after first declaring the state to be vigilant and prepared for a potential outbreak of the respiratory illness.
“In the United States there’s been 14 deaths from COVID-19. That’s nationwide, while at the same time there’s been 18,000 deaths from the seasonal flu,” Stitt said. “Here in Oklahoma we have one confirmed case of COVID-19 and zero deaths. In Oklahoma alone we’ve had 53 deaths from the seasonal flu.”
The toll reached 17 by Friday night.
The infected person arrived at the Tulsa International Airport on Feb. 23 and didn’t exhibit symptoms until Feb. 29, said Bruce Dart, executive director of the Tulsa Health Department.
Once symptomatic, Dart said, the man immediately began wearing a flu mask and called his health-care provider, which helped him to take the appropriate next steps.
“His family is isolating at home as well,” Dart said, noting that medical professionals feel positive about the man’s recovery so far. “The family has been tremendous during an understandably frightening time and should be commended for their cooperation and assistance during our investigation.”
In response to a question, Dart explained that the patient works from home — good news for health officials. He said those officials are tracking information about where he went and who he came into contact with between Feb. 23 and Feb. 29.
“At this juncture, we haven’t found anything to be concerned about,” Dart said.
Beginning Friday morning, the Oklahoma State Department of Health had the capability of testing for the virus here rather than relying on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which tested the state’s first confirmed case.
Health Commissioner Gary Cox said that five patients in Oklahoma have tested negative for coronavirus. Four new potential patients — the infected man’s family — are under investigation and pending testing.
Cox said the state’s new capability to test for the virus can provide results in six to eight hours. Cases that test positive will be sent to the CDC for a second confirmation, he said.
“We have the capacity to do 100 tests per day on one shift,” Cox said, “and should the need arise we can do three shifts. So we can do around 300 per day.”
Mayor G.T. Bynum said the city’s first-responders are prepared and that air travel at Tulsa International Airport isn’t affected by the case of coronavirus.
“The most important thing for all of us as Tulsans to do is to focus on what we can control, and that is preventing infection,” Bynum said. “Not just for this, but for any other number of respiratory viruses.
“We all should avoid contact with sick individuals. We should wash our hands frequently. If we are sick, we should stay home. Don’t try to tough it out and go to work and make everyone else sick.”
Dart explained that information so far suggests that most COVID-19 illnesses are mild.
“Older people and those with underlying health conditions like heart disease, lung disease and diabetes are at far greater risk of serious illness,” he said. “The virus is thought to spread mainly from person to person between people who are in close contact with one another through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes.
“Symptoms of COVID-19 may appear two to 14 days after exposure, and they include fever, cough and shortness of breath.”
He suggested that people keep calm, aware and informed. Health officials are working diligently to put out the freshest information possible.
“Stay tuned, because this is a rapidly evolving situation that will change,” Dart said.
The Tulsa Regional Chamber issued a statement saying it is closely monitoring the coronavirus situation and has collected pertinent information on its website.
“Situations like this have the potential to significantly impact business and tourism, and by extension quality of life,” Mike Neal, president and CEO of the Tulsa Regional Chamber, said in the statement. “So we stand ready to assist our medical professionals in sharing information and to help local businesses and their employees prepare and respond as needed.”
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