More than half of Tulsa County ZIP codes now are in the red category for severe risk of COVID-19 spread on the latest Tulsa Health Department active case map.
Twenty-two ZIP codes are in red, 18 in orange (high risk), one in yellow (moderate risk) and one in green (low risk). The map, updated each Friday, is based on the 14-day average of active cases per 1,000 residents.
A week ago, nine Tulsa County ZIP codes were in the red, 28 in orange, four in yellow and one in green. In the final week of October, four were red and 29 orange.
The red level signifies “severe and uncontrolled level of COVID-19, meaning outbreaks are present and worsening and testing and contact tracing capacity is strained or exceeded,” according to the Tulsa Health Department.
“I think no one expected it to get this bad this quickly, but it has,” said Bruce Dart, executive director of the Tulsa Health Department. “You take the flu on top of that, and I don’t want to sugarcoat it: We’re not in a good place.”
Dart called it disconcerting to see so much red, which shows that the novel coronavirus is transmitting freely.
“Much too freely to not impact our hospitals in a negative way,” he said. “We’ve got to start doing the right thing to prevent transmission and break the chain of transmission. I don’t want to see every ZIP code in Tulsa County at red.”
A day earlier, the Tulsa County hospital region entered the second tier in the state’s revised surge plan. The state also reported a record number of COVID-19 hospitalizations statewide, at 1,279, as well as a record for COVID-19 patients in ICUs at 350.
The second tier means that for at least three consecutive days COVID-19 cases have been 15% to 19% of the overall patient loads of hospitals in Tulsa County.
Friday’s hospital report showed that 16.2% of Tulsa County hospitals’ patients were being treated for COVID-19.
Tier interventions include a selective reduction in elective procedures and implementation of a shared staffing pool. Gov. Kevin Stitt has the option of canceling elective procedures in a Tier 2 region to create more capacity if necessary, according to the plan.
Dart said he speaks regularly with Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum, as well as with city councilors. As far as whether Dart might recommend limiting bar or restaurant capacity or event sizes, he said the officials are going through possible strategies.
“I’m not sure where we’re at in the process, but I think if we’re going to make some changes to keep people safe you might see some decisions coming rather quickly.”
The University of Oklahoma hosted its usual Friday virtual discussion on COVID-19 for reporters, with grim news to offer, as well.
Dr. Dale Bratzler, OU’s chief COVID officer, highlighted that the state’s active case number — a record 24,091 as of Friday — reflects only the ones that are known. He said researchers think there are far more people in the community who are infected who haven’t gotten a test or visited a physician.
“So the number of people in the community that have an active infection is probably far higher — four to five times higher — than that 24,000 number,” Bratzler said. “Which means your chance of encountering somebody in the community that’s infected goes up substantially.”
He also emphasized that there is substantial community spread of the virus throughout Oklahoma, particularly in rural communities and rural counties.
“Oklahoma currently is seeing about 53.5 new cases per day per 100,000 population,” Bratzler said. “But we have many counties in our state right now that are seeing more than 100 new cases per 100,000 population per day. These are many of our rural counties around the state, so there’s definite rural spread of COVID-19 right now.”
The weekly state epidemiology report released Friday again showed the success of cities that have implemented mask requirements.
COVID-19 cases per capita in municipalities with mask orders grew 34% from Aug. 1 to Nov. 11, while cases in parts of Oklahoma without a mandate rose by 109%.