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Experts Say Virus Trends Encouraging, But Caution Against Loosening Restrictions Too Soon

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Charts from a Feb. 28 report for Oklahoma prepared by the White House COVID-19 Response Team.

Public health experts say Oklahoma's COVID-19 numbers are trending in the right direction -- but mitigation measures are more critical than ever.

"There's going to be a temptation to relax our mitigation strategies, maybe not mask as much," said Dr. Aaron Wendelboe, University of Oklahoma professor and former Oklahoma state epidemiologist, during a virtual press briefing held by the Healthier Oklahoma Coalition on Tuesday.

"Just remember: If we do relax our mitigation strategies, we probably will not continue to see these downward trends that I think all of us are really enjoying experiencing," Wendelboe said. 

Wendelboe estimated via projection that keeping existing local mask ordinances in place through June could prevent at least 46,000 confirmed infections, 2,500 hospitalizations and 450 deaths.

"So, I can't overemphasize that the mitigation strategies that we're using continue to buy us time to vaccinate Oklahomans and get people to have immunity through, you know, vaccination-induced, rather than taking their chances against the virus, taking their chances against having severe infection, hospitalization and even death," Wendelboe said.

National public health figures have also advised Americans not to lower their guard. CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said Friday, "Things are tenuous. Now is not the time to relax restrictions."

Dr. David Kendrick, CEO of MyHealth Access Network and Department Chair of Medical Informatics at the University of Oklahoma School of Community Medicine, said he also sees good news in the data.

"When we started to see the positivity rate go down, we pivoted to also look at cases and count cases. The case count itself has also come down nicely, which is reassuring that this drop in positivity is real and is tracking with the actual case counts that we're seeing in the community," Kendrick said.

Wendelboe said the recent winter weather may have played a role in lower numbers of late, but hospitalizations are also dropping, suggesting a real decline.

"If people are sick enough to go to the hospital, they go to the hospital," Wendelboe said.

In the most recent weekly report for Oklahoma from the White House COVID-19 Response Team, dated Sunday, it is noted that Oklahoma has seen positive week-over-week trends in test positivity and new cases.

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