New COVID cases up 650%; Health department shuffles to meet testing, vaccination demands

Wulf James-Roby
The Daily Ardmoreite
A line of cars wait for drive through COVID testing in Ardmore on Thursday, Jan. 13.

As new cases spike and the Omicron variant of COVID-19 sweeps the state during flu and cold season, area health officials, as well as area business owners,  are dealing with a second crisis—staffing shortages.  

Chris Munn, interim regional administrative director for Oklahoma State Department of Health District 8 in South Central Oklahoma said our area is definitely seeing an increase in COVID and other illnesses following an uptick in indoor gatherings, holiday travel, and holiday gatherings. “By the numbers, it’s about a 50/50 split in our district between Omicron and Delta variants,” Munn said. “I think overall in the state it’s about 80 percent Omicron, 20% Delta overall.”  

Along with that comes an increase in testing demands. “The urgent cares and hospitals in the area have had to increase their testing,” Munn said. “And we have too. We’ll be doing some testing this weekend and some locations are now offering testing after hours.”  

"We're in the same boat as everybody else in this situation,” Munn said. With many staff out with COVID or other illness, Munn said they’ve had to shuffle staff around in order to maintain coverage across the district’s counties. In addition to moving staff around to other roles, services have been reduced to only essential programs so that available staff can work in the most pressing areas. “We’re able to do that successfully right now,” Munn said.  

To compare some numbers, Munn said in Carter County, just two weeks ago, the number of reported new cases of COVID-19 were 72. As of yesterday, there were 540, marking a 650% increase in Carter County alone. “That’s the way it is in the rest of our districts counties as well as statewide,” Munn said.  

Munn said with the high rate of spread there is little information available in terms of pinpointing any specific event or activity causing the surge in cases, but the data shows that the precautions recommended from the outset (masking, handwashing, social distancing) are effective in lowering the spread of COVID and other diseases.

“The best thing you can do to prevent serious illness and hospitalization with COVID-19 is to get vaccinated,” Munn said. “If you are vaccinated and haven’t had the booster, get that when you’re eligible.” Munn said maintaining distance between yourself and others and trying to avoid gatherings when possible also help.  

“We are not only dealing with COVID at this time,” Munn said. “At this time, we still have to worry about the common cold, flu and respiratory viruses.”  

Munn said vaccinations are free through the Health Departments in the region, for ages 5 and up, with boosters available for ages 12 and up. For those of any age who are immunocompromised or at increased risk, Munn said, a third dose of the vaccine is recommended in addition to a booster approximately 5 months after the completion of the initial vaccination series. “Those recommendations are currently the same across all age groups,” Munn said.  

Appointments for vaccination and testing are available online at vaccinate.oklahoma.gov.

Resources for those in need are available through the Grace Resource Center at ardmoregracecenter.com. Other resources are available via Ardmore Behavioral Health Collaborative’s site at https://www.ardmorebhc.com/community-resources.  

The Chickasaw Nutrition Center is also offering help for kids 1-18 with food for the long weekend; that service is being offered via drive-thru.