‘Holding our breath’ on virus trend
Effect of school, sports still unclear, officials say
With data still being finalized for August, Oklahoma health care officials indicate this post-Labor Day week is a period of “holding our breath” until the effects of schools and football season becomes evident in COVID-19 case reporting.
The number of hospitalizations, though slightly down, doesn’t necessarily indicate a trend in the right direction, according to Dr. Dale Bratzler of OU Health, who said a clearer picture should emerge after a week or 10 days.
Low vaccination rates are the most concerning metric now for Bratzler, he said Wednesday in a live-streamed COVID update. Although Oklahoma saw an average of 118 breakthrough cases per day last month, it’s a figure that represents only 5% of infections — about 2,210 unvaccinated Oklahomans contracted COVID on average each day in August.
According to demographics Bratzler provided, vaccinated Oklahomans getting infected tend to be much older. However, hospital leaders have said the average age is much younger for unvaccinated patients needing treatment for COVID infections.
The number of vaccinations reported by state health officials during the week including the Labor Day holiday shows a sharp drop in demand. More than 54% of Oklahomans have gotten at least one dose, with 45.3% fully vaccinated, according to the state’s latest epidemiology report.
More than 1,500 people were hospitalized with COVID-19 across the state in a recent threeday average, with 420 people in ICU beds. State Health Department data indicate that 29 of those hospitalized are children.
“But we just had the Labor Day weekend, and many colleges have returned to campus, along with our primary and secondary schools,” Dr. Jennifer Clark pointed out Wednesday morning in a Project ECHO update. “So some people are kind of holding their breath right now because in Oklahoma we’re not quite seeing that trend yet.”
Clark said the question remains of whether Oklahoma has “truly peaked.”
“What we’re experiencing in the hospitals tells us that we haven’t. (We also have) wastewater data that says we’re still shedding (virus) pretty significantly,” she said.
Oklahoma’s weekly epidemiology report for Aug. 29-Sept. 4 shows 441 vaccinated people have been hospitalized in Oklahoma with breakthrough infections.
Bratzler pointed out that data doesn’t yet account for the weeks that schools have been back to in-person learning, and he pointed out the difference this year in the “experiment” with football stadiums at full capacity. Last year during the pandemic, concerts and football games that went on did so at reduced seating capacity to allow for distancing.
As of Wednesday, 27,332 documented COVID-19 cases were active in Oklahoma. The state is fourth in the nation for a death rate more than double the U.S. average, tied for fifth in new cases over the past week, fifth for its rate of confirmed COVID-19 hospital admissions and sixth for its test positivity.
The number of COVID deaths in Oklahoma, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics, has reached 9,370.
The state also records its own death total, which lags behind that of the NCHS. Seven-day averages of both figures have been steadily rising for two months. On July 14, Oklahoma averaged about two or three deaths a week, according to state and CDC data, respectively. On Wednesday, those figures had climbed to about 24 or 29 deaths a week.
Among those hospitalized in Wednesday’s report, 386 are Tulsa County residents, with 114 of them in ICUs.
The state’s seven-day average of daily new COVID-19 cases decreased slightly from last week’s total to 2,532, with 17,727 new cases of COVID confirmed across the state.
Tulsa County’s seven-day average of daily new cases also dipped last week to 407 with 2,849 new infections reported.
Virus sequencing data indicate that the delta variant now accounts for 85.4% of cases in Oklahoma, still dominating genetic identifications over newer variants of concern.
All available vaccines provide a good deal of protection against the delta variant, but health officials still recommend that vaccinated people take precautions to reduce the possibility of transmission. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that all people regardless of vaccination status wear masks indoors in areas of high transmission.
Bratzler on Wednesday cited a recent study that determined after several months of mRNA vaccine administration, researchers could not find any elevated risk of adverse effects between vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals.
Oklahoma doctors have urged residents who haven’t yet been vaccinated to prioritize talking with their primary care physicians about the risks and benefits of getting vaccinated. No treatment is 100% effective at preventing COVID-19, but those who are vaccinated and become infected most often have less severe illness.
Those who wish to schedule a COVID-19 vaccination may do so at vaccinate.oklahoma.gov or find other vaccination opportunities at vaccinefinder.org.
By the numbers
The data below are cumulative as of Wednesday:
Confirmed cases: 96,102 Deaths: 1,312
State of Oklahoma
Confirmed cases: 572,223 Deaths (CDC): 9,370 Breakthrough cases (deaths): 7,334 (86)
Vaccine doses administered: 3,906,825
Cases: 40,412,866 Deaths: 652,175 Vaccine doses administered: 374,724,113
Cases: 222,372,295 Deaths: 4,593,268 Vaccine doses administered: 5,557,958,436