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Many Recent COVID Deaths In Oklahoma Were Preventable, White House Says

White House coronavirus task force

In its most recent weekly report for Oklahoma, Vice President Mike Pence's White House coronavirus task force said that not all of the Oklahomans who succumbed to COVID in recent weeks had to die.

"Community transmission has remained high across the state for the past month, with many preventable deaths," the report reads. 

Gov. Kevin Stitt's office released a statement saying he "vehemently disputes the editorial opinion" in the task force's report and said the same language is in several states' most recent reports.

"Regardless, the governor maintains that Oklahoma has performed much better than the nation as a whole in terms of protecting our most vulnerable, and the White House agrees with that assertion," spokesman Charlie Hannema said. (Hannema's statement did not specifically counter or disprove the White House report's assertion that many of Oklahoma's COVID-19 fatalities were preventable deaths.)

At a September press conference, the state's interim health commissioner, Col. Lance Frye, admitted to a reporter who asked if Oklahoma was doing everything it could to prevent unnecessary deaths that "I don't know if we're doing everything." That week's White House report had recommended actions to prevent unnecessary deaths.

The weekly reports are typically dated Sunday; the state has said it receives them Monday, and they are typically released Wednesdays at noon. This week, Oklahoma State Department of Health spokesperson Rob Crissinger said the release was delayed by four hours "to give everyone an opportunity to review before posting."

The report says that while Oklahoma has made small improvements in test positivity and cases per capita, it still ranks 5th worst and 10th worst in the country for those metrics, respectively.

The report also says testing has dropped by 16%, with Oklahoma performing 687 viral PCR tests per 100,000 residents last week compared to the national average of 1,961 tests per 100,000.

Tulsa, which had enjoyed one week out of the highest risk "red zone" category in the previous report, is back in the list of localities of highest concern.

"Messaging to communities about effectiveness of masks is critical as many outdoor activities will be moving indoors with colder weather approaching," the report says. "Masks must be worn indoors in all public settings and group gathering sizes should be limited."

The report also urges the state to keep transmission low among college students, especially leading up to Thanksgiving, and addressing hot spots among Native communities in Mayes and Osage Counties.

View the full report here.

Chris joined Public Radio Tulsa as a news anchor and reporter in April 2020. He’s a graduate of Hunter College and the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism, both at the City University of New York.
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