Health care officials tried Tuesday to reassure Tulsa-area residents that hospitals have sufficient beds to treat patients despite a surge in COVID-19 cases.
“At this time Ascension St. John is experiencing record-level in-patient COVID-19 volumes across our own health system,” said Ascension St. John CEO Jeff Nowlin. “However, we do want to assure the community that at this time we have the capacity to treat all patients across our six hospitals, including those diagnosed with COVID-19.”
Bed capacity ebbs and flows, Nowlin said, changing from hour to hour.
“Managing high patient capacity and bed capacity is not something new to our health system or to our health systems in this community,” he said.
Nowlin spoke at a news conference at City Hall the day after the Regional Medical Response System reported that every ICU bed in Tulsa was full.
Dr. Anuj Malik, director of infection control for Ascension St. John, said health care facilities around the world have had to deal with shortages of medicines, beds and other medical supplies from time to time throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
“So it is not surprising that in the face of this recent surge in infections that we have had some strain on bed capacity,” Malik said.
Malik said hospitals adapt to these situations as they arise and that most have the ability to create additional space for ICU beds as needed.
“We will prevail, but during this time, please don’t be concerned about coming to the hospital if there is a legitimate need for it,” he said.
Tulsa Health Department Executive Director Bruce Dart said Tulsa County’s COVID-19 case numbers are the worst they have ever been and could soon reach an infamous milestone.
“If daily case trends continue, we will reach (a cumulative) 4% of all Tulsa County residents testing positive within the next four days,” he said.
Dart noted that since the city’s last COVID-19 news conference on Oct. 27, another 27 county residents have died of the virus, including two whose deaths were reported Tuesday. Overall, the county has seen 25,024 cases, 361 of which were reported Tuesday, according to THD. Two hundred twenty-eight county residents have died of the disease.
The county’s seven-day rolling average for COVID-19 cases is a record 257, Dart said.
Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum repeated his call for other county municipalities to approve mask mandates, noting that since September, residents from communities without mask mandates have accounted for 61.4% of COVID-19 hospitalizations in Tulsa.
He recounted stories from COVID-19 patients who had survived the ordeal but not without great suffering and discomfort, including one person who had a fever of nearly 106 degrees.
“I think I would rather get it myself than be the person who caused somebody that I care about to go through that experience,” Bynum said. “And yet we are still debating if people should wear masks or not in our region. Ridiculous.”
Bynum said he has still not heard one good policy explanation for why a community would not implement such a requirement.
“I hear a lot about personal responsibility and freedom. I love personal responsibility and freedom,” he said. “I’ve spent months encouraging people to do this before we found it necessary to have an ordinance in place. Everything that we have an ordinance for you should be doing on your own, anyway, but ultimately it has to be put into law.”
Jenks city councilors voted on a mask mandate Tuesday night, making it only the second city in the county to mandate the wearing of face coverings in public.
Bynum said he hopes to work with the City Council and Tulsa Health Department to find a way to provide more rapid testing for restaurant workers and first responders to help slow the spread of the disease. He also said he would be open to discussing possible changes to the city ordinance limiting events to 500 people or fewer.
Dart and other health officials noted Tuesday that indoor events big and small are the primary ways COVID-19 is spreading.
“I think we have to step back and pivot and look at … changing some of our recommendations to hopefully stop some of the gatherings, lower those numbers and at the same time see a decrease in spread,” Dart said.
With Thanksgiving approaching, he encouraged families to limit the size of their gatherings and to wear masks and follow social distancing guidelines. He said large indoor gathering, trips to the mall on Black Friday and other Thanksgiving traditions should be avoided.
“These are all high-risk activities that should be avoided to help prevent the spread of COVID-19,” Dart said. “Staying home is the best way to protect yourself and others.”