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COVID Patients Fill 1 In 5 Hospital Beds, Doctors And Nurses 'Shouldn't Have To Be Doing This Again'

Whitney Bryen, Oklahoma Watch

The Oklahoma State Department of Health is acknowledging the squeeze on hospitals created by patients severely ill with COVID-19.

According to a hospital association survey this week, 22% of staffed hospital beds in the state — 1,309 out of 5,913 — are occupied by someone with COVID. That’s on top of hospital demand that’s typically higher this time of year.

State Health Commissioner Dr. Lance Frye said the survey represents the count at a single point in time and numbers can fluctuate.

"This does not, however, represent the full extent of what our health care workers are experiencing on the ground," Frye said Thursday during an online briefing.

Frye said hospital officials have made it clear they need help.

"We are very grateful to those who are working diligently to keep Oklahomans safe, but they shouldn't have to be doing this again," Frye said. "We have a vaccine for COVID-19, a readily available solution to prevent overwhelming our hospital system. We know this vaccine works. In the last 30 days, 92% of COVID hospitalizations in the state have been among individuals who are unvaccinated."

According to OSDH, 41.8% of the total state population is now fully vaccinated, and the daily average of doses given is up 137% since the start of July. People are not considered fully vaccinated until two weeks after a dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine or two weeks after their second dose of Moderna or Pfizer vaccines.

Frye encouraged people to keep practicing the "three W’s" as well — washing their hands, watching their distance and wearing a mask. He said OSDH is also looking for ways to help alleviate hospital staffing shortages.

"We're looking at staffing companies right now, in conversations and trying to see if there's some statewide contract we can do to try to help bring in staff from other states," Frye said.

Other states with health care systems strained by high numbers of COVID hospitalizations have already put out calls for out-of-state health care workers.

Frye said OSDH has also checked with Oklahoma health care licensing boards about the possibility of emergency rules that could help ramp up hospital staffing. The state nursing board maintains a reciprocity policy for out-of-state licenses. The medical and osteopathic boards are developing emergency rules to fast-track license approvals.

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