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THD Urges Vaccination As Delta Variant Pushes Tulsa County Toward Case Numbers Last Seen In Winter

U.S. Department of Defense

The head of the Tulsa Health Department warns local COVID infections are increasing exponentially.

THD Executive Director Dr. Bruce Dart told city councilors on Wednesday new cases roughly doubled every week this month, driven by the Delta variant of the coronavirus. While Tulsa County has the state’s third-highest vaccination rate, Dart said it’s still well below what’s needed to suppress the highly contagious variant.

"If we see this kind of growth again next month, we'd have over 7,700 cases in August, which is more than 1% of our entire population testing positive in one month. And then, if we continue to see this kind of growth in cases, we're on track in August to be back at the daily number of cases we saw in February of this year, and we all remember February," Dart said.

Tulsa County had 1,862 new cases reported in the past week, the highest number since 2,590 were reported in early February as the state came out of a devastating winter surge in infections.

Dart said local hospitals started the week with about 12% of their patients there because of COVID, and they’re now taking in patients from surrounding states where beds are not available, all while they can’t set up additional ICU beds absent an emergency declaration by Gov. Kevin Stitt.

"Even if that was declared, I'm going to be very honest. Hospitals have lost staff since this all started. We're down 25 people at the health department. We've lost 13 nurses. Hospitals are in the same situation, and I'm not sure they have the capacity to set these up, to be perfectly honest. And I've been talking to each hospital's chief medical officer, who are really starting to get concerned," Dart said.

Dart is urging people to get vaccinated if they still haven’t, and to wear a mask and practice social distancing if they won’t.

"If you don't care about yourself, fine. But your neighbors, your community, your network, your circles — you've got to protect them," Dart said.

Dart said unvaccinated individuals are seven times more likely to be infected by the Delta variant. That includes kids under 12, many of whom are about to go back to schools.

Adults ages 18 to 44 account for more than half of Tulsa County’s new cases.

THD will reopen its testing site in the coming days. It had closed because of low demand for testing.

Matt Trotter joined KWGS as a reporter in 2013. Before coming to Public Radio Tulsa, he was the investigative producer at KJRH. His freelance work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times and on MSNBC and CNN.
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