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Vaccinations continue in Oklahoma as hospitals fill up, 4 new deaths at Veterans Center

Michael D. Smith
msmith@ardmoreite.com

More details about the state's vaccination efforts emerged on Monday, the same day another four deaths linked to COVID-19 since Saturday were confirmed at the Oklahoma Veterans Center in Ardmore.

State health officials will roll out a vaccine scheduling system this week as the second phase of the state’s vaccination rollout plan is expected to partially begin. While Oklahomans over 65 are among those priority groups included in the vaccine expansion this week, hospitals across the state remain inundated with COVID-19 patients.

A flame at the Oklahoma Veterans Center burns in a cold wind Monday, Oct. 26, 2020. The facility recorded four deaths linked to COVID-19 between Saturday and Monday after an outbreak started in early December.

The number of Oklahoma Veterans Center residents who have died from COVID-19 grew to 24 on Monday, according to Shawn Kirkland, director of homes for the Oklahoma Department of Veterans Affairs in a Monday email, with four new deaths confirmed since Saturday. At least 70 active cases were recorded among residents with nine hospitalized. A dozen residents have recovered from the disease.

A vaccination event at the Ardmore Convention Center today is among the first of weekly recurring events beginning statewide this week. While no more appointments are available in Ardmore this week, walk-ins will be accepted, according to a Monday notice from the Carter County Health Department.

More than 50,000 people in the state have already received the first of two doses of the vaccine, according to Oklahoma State Department of Health Commissioner Dr. Lance Frye during a Monday press conference. Oklahoma has already received nearly 175,000 doses and expects to receive up to 40,000 additional doses every week, but the actual number received will only be known on a weekly basis.

Vaccination efforts this week are currently open for first responders, health care workers and Oklahomans over 65, the latter being the first group from phase two of the state’s four-phase vaccination plan based on at-risk priority groups. Other phase two groups, like teachers or those with comorbidities, are not included in this week’s vaccine distribution.

According to state health officials, some teachers may be eligible for vaccines as soon as this week depending on just how many doses are actually received.

“Some teachers are higher priority than other teachers. Some of them are over 65, they’ll have some with comorbidities, or you’ll have some in certain jobs that are higher risk than other jobs,” said Frye.

Officials will be able to make a better decision on when to add on more phase two priority groups later today. OSDH Deputy Commissioner Keith Reed said his department currently receives notice about the following week’s shipments every Tuesday.

“The key to being able to add these other groups on is going to be inventory. At the rate we’re going right now, we’re going to have to get quite a bit further into this before we can open up to different groups,” Reed said during a press conference on Monday.

Reed also said the state’s vaccination scheduling tool should be available sometime this week. The online tool will allow people to schedule their vaccination and receive a reminder for their second dose about three weeks later.

Vaccinations in Oklahoma will be administered by county health departments along with retail chain stores Walgreens and CVS Pharmacy. Reed said the partnership with the retail chains was part of Operation Warp Speed, the vaccination plan administered by the federal government.

With vaccination efforts growing in Oklahoma, health care workers are looking for any sign of relief. The seven-day average of new daily COVID-19 hospitalizations rose to 165 on Monday, among some of the highest daily hospitalization rates in Oklahoma, according to OSDH data compiled by The Ardmoreite.

Mercy Hospital Ardmore reached a record number of COVID-19 patients receiving care on New Year’s Eve. A hospital spokesperson said 45 patients were receiving treatment for COVID-19 on Monday, down slightly from a record-high 51 patients on Thursday. At least nine of those patients were in an intensive care unit on Monday.

The number of COVID-19 cases confirmed in Carter County climbed to 3,092 on Monday, although the actual number of cases is likely higher because not everyone has been tested.

Oklahoma has recorded 306,771 cases of COVID-19, after 2,699 new cases were reported on Monday. The number of deaths statewide linked to the disease grew to 2,552 after five new deaths were reported. Due to the holiday weekend after New Year’s Day, some data reporting from OSDH was delayed.

Carter County has recorded 3,092 cases of COVID-19 after 52 new cases were confirmed between Sunday and Monday. A recent surge in confirmed cases over the past three weeks has accounted for nearly one-third of all cases in Carter County.

That surge has essentially doubled the number of active cases in Carter County since Dec. 17, when 310 cases were presumed active. On Monday, the number of active reported cases rose to 626.

The vaccination event in Ardmore on Tuesday will be open from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m. to accept walk-ins. Similar events in Duncan and Ada on Wednesday and Thursday, respectively, have also been fully booked but walk-ins will be accepted. 

Notices on county health department Facebook pages, including https://www.facebook.com/CarterOkHealthDept/, will be posted with links to schedule vaccination appointments later this week.