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Expert: Cleveland County COVID Cluster Of Variant Cases 'Worth Watching' But State Trends Remain OK

A leading state COVID-19 expert said Tuesday that a coronavirus strain identified in a cluster of infections in Cleveland County last week is "worth watching," but statewide trends continue to be headed in the right direction.

"What do we know about this particular variant?" said Dr. Dale Bratzler, chief COVID officer at OU Health, on a Tuesday press briefing hosted by the Healthier Oklahoma Coalition, referring to the B.1.617.2 variant. 

"Certainly data from the World Health Organization that's coming out of the U.K. and other countries is that this variant spreads more rapidly than other variants, and it doesn't seem to be as protected by the antibodies generated by current vaccines," Bratzler said, adding that it's about six times more resistant to those antibodies.

"The good news is despite the variants that are spreading in Oklahoma, we've seen the case counts continue to come down," Bratzler said. "In fact, Oklahoma, as of this morning, was at 3 cases per 100,000 population per day, which is lowest in the nation in terms of new cases."

In a Friday news release, the Oklahoma State Department of Health said the variant, sometimes referred to as the "India strain," had been observed in a cluster of 17 cases, with 13 associated with Cleveland County. All patients were symptomatic; five had been fully vaccinated with both doses of the Moderna vaccine.

"I wasn't surprised" at those five cases, Bratzler said Tuesday.

"I think we're going to continue to see breakthrough infections occur," Bratzler said. "I think they're going to be more common with variant strains to which you don't have as good a protection. My biggest concern is that we will see -- we'll probably have a very good summer in Oklahoma, I think we will see cases remain low through the summer -- but in the fall and winter, as other respiratory viruses do, I think it's likely we will see outbreaks that occur" due to pockets of unvaccinated people.

As of Tuesday morning, Oklahoma ranked 37th nationally for percentage of the population having received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine. 

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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