New virus cases slow, Oklahoma remains among hardest hit by pandemic this week

Michael D. Smith
The Daily Ardmoreite

The number of new daily cases of COVID-19 continued to drop statewide and countywide this week. Despite the steady drop from a mid-January peak, Oklahoma remains one of the worst hit states in the nation for the pandemic. 

Oklahoma ranks seventh in the nation for total cases per 100,000 people and ranked fourth in the nation for reported COVID-19 deaths per capita in the last seven days, according to the weekly epidemiological report from the Oklahoma State Department of Health on Friday. 

Oklahoma has recorded 428,536 total cases of COVID-19 after 978 new cases were recorded Saturday according to the OSDH COVID-19 dashboard. The true number of cases in Oklahoma is likely higher because many people have not been tested and studies suggest people can be infected and not feel sick. 

The seven-day average of new daily cases statewide fell below 700 for the first time this week since late August after it peaked over 4,255 on Jan. 13, according to OSDH data compiled by The Ardmoreite.  

The drop could be partly associated with a decline in statewide testing for the disease. Oklahoma averaged just over 112,000 weekly tests for COVID-19 during the first four weeks of 2021, according to weekly OSDH epidemiological reports.  

The following four weeks averaged fewer than 84,000 weekly tests and the week ending March 4 recorded only 62,000 tested specimens.  

Even with slowing testing rates, statewide hospitalizations for the disease also fell below 400 for the first time since early July. During the January surge in pandemic hospitalizations, nearly 2,000 Oklahoma hospital beds were filled with COVID-19 patients. 

The seven-day average of new hospitalizations due to COVID-19 in Oklahoma fell below 40 Friday for the first time since September.

“The drop in hospitalizations seems like the best indicator that there has been a substantial decrease in the spread,” said Julie Williamson, Public Information Officer for OSDH District 8 which includes Carter County. 

Much of the severe strain felt by Mercy Hospital Ardmore has also been lifted in recent weeks. The facility’s adult behavioral health service, which had been closed to provide support for the surge in COVID-19 patients, has been reopened and patients are no longer being regularly held in waiting areas or hallways. 

According to Mercy Hospital media relations Executive Director Nancy Corbett on Thursday, long wait times in the Ardmore emergency department are also down. Local hospitalizations for the disease have fallen from a record 56 on Jan. 12 to nine on Friday, three of whom were receiving ICU treatment. 

The number of presumably active cases of COVID-19 in Carter County also fell below 200 for the first time since November and active cases statewide have fallen by more than 68% from a January peak. 

The number of active COVID-19 cases in Carter County has fallen to three months lows Friday but remained near 200.

One major change to OSDH reporting methods came on Wednesday when the department announced an effort to “show a more timely picture of the disease's impact in Oklahoma,” according to Wednesday’s situation update. 

The health department this week started using a provisional death count based on death certificates provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Center for Health Statistics. As a result, Oklahoma’s pandemic death toll more than doubled from 4,534 on Tuesday to 7,202 by Friday. 

“As cases increased toward the end of 2020, our investigating epidemiologists began encountering larger numbers of incomplete records requiring in-depth investigation. This process has subsequently caused an increasing difference between the OSDH death count,” read Wednesday’s update. 

“Thorough investigations of each COVID-19 death will continue while also reporting the Provisional Death Count, and in the long run, our numbers will more closely align with the CDC’s.” 

The number of reported deaths linked to COVID-19 in Carter County climbed to 60 this week. Two females and two males all 65 or older were among the Carter County deaths reported since Feb. 26. The actual dates of these deaths was not directly reported by OSDH.

The number of new COVID-19 cases has fallen sharply since the January spike as vaccines roll out to more priority groups and testing numbers declined during February winter storms.

While the most recent OSDH epidemiological report has connected nine deaths at the Oklahoma Veterans Center in Ardmore to the disease, a state veterans affairs official told The Ardmoreite that 40 residents at the facility had died between Dec. 16 and Jan. 20.  

For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.