Delta variant accounting for most new COVID-19 cases, vaccine efforts resume

Michael D. Smith
The Daily Ardmoreite

State health officials have resumed regular briefings and will soon begin reporting hospital bed information as hospitals in the state remains at capacity. While the delta variant accounts for most new cases recorded in Oklahoma, an effort in Carter County to distribute vaccines during a Thursday drive-thru was also a success and will likely return next month. 

State Health Commissioner Dr. Lance Frye told reporters during a Thursday briefing that the Oklahoma State Department of Health is working to resume more detailed reports about bed availability. A survey recently distributed through the Oklahoma Hospital Association was completed this week and showed just under 6,000 staffed beds statewide, with almost 950 of those designated as ICU beds. 

Of the roughly 300 pediatric staffed beds statewide, about 53 of those are ICU beds. On Thursday, more than one in five staffed hospital beds across Oklahoma were occupied by someone with COVID-19. Frye said that the number of beds can fluctuate by the hour but the recent survey can provide health officials with a clearer picture of hospital capacity. 

“While this is a point-in-time data snapshot, it does give us a baseline for a capacity in staffing as a state right now. This does not, however, represent the full extent of what our healthcare workers are experiencing on the ground. Staffing continues to be an issue and we’re working closely with healthcare providers to see what can be done to help address staffing shortages,” Frye said. 

According to the OSDH daily situation report on Friday, the three-day average of COVID-19 hospitalizations in the state climbed to 1,380, up from 1,268 on Tuesday. Over 26% of those cases are receiving ICU treatment. 

Frye said public health surveillance of COVID-19 tests and sequencing shows a majority of new cases are from the highly contagious delta variant of the coronavirus. While community transmission continues to be the leading cause of the virus’s spread, OSDH deputy commissioner Keith Reed said that the new school year is also a cause for concern. 

“We are already seeing outbreaks in schools just a few days in and we know that is going to be a challenge as well because that’s an area where unvaccinated kids gather,” Reed said on Thursday. 

The Carter County Department of Health on Thursdsay distributed over 400 doses of COVID-19 vaccines, according to OSDH District 8 spokesperson Julie Williamson. The drive-thru event was the first health department vaccination event in the county since April. 

“We saw a variety of demographics and gave first, second and third doses. And it didn’t rain on us,” Williamson said on Friday. 

Vehicles line up for a drive-thru vaccination event Thursday, Aug. 19, 2021. Over 400 COVID-19 vaccine doses were administered at the first health department vaccination event held in Carter County since April.

Last week, the FDA and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention approved a third dose of Pfizer or Moderna vaccines for those who are immunocompromised, like recent organ transplant recipients, those with HIV infection, those receiving cancer treatment, and others. Federal health officials this week recommend third doses of those mRNA vaccines for all eligible Americans eight months after their second dose. 

Williamson said that another drive-thru event will likely be scheduled once widespread boosters are available, which could be as soon as September. State health officials have said that vaccine supply is adequate for the state to administer third doses and further guidance will be provided once approved. 

State health officials continue to reiterate the safety and efficacy of three COVID-19 vaccines approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. In the last 30 days, 92% of COVID-19 hospitalizations in Oklahoma were among unvaccinated people.