Coronavirus Variant Complicates Judging Where Oklahoma's Outbreak Will Go

Jan 20, 2021

Rising COVID hospitalizations have squeezed the state's intensive care unit capacity to the point there are zero beds available at times.
Credit Project ECHO

Given current COVID trends, health experts are trying to figure out whether Oklahoma’s outbreak has peaked or plateaued.

That determination is complicated by the emergence of a new mutation of the coronavirus that originated in the United Kingodm and is spread more easily and quickly. Genetic analyses have found the variant in a number of states, including Texas, but not Oklahoma.

Project ECHO faculty member Dr. Jennifer Clark said it’s hard to imagine the variant is not in the Sooner State.

"The biggest concern that we have is we’re starting to come down as we saw with the trends in the United Kingdom and all of a sudden, we’re hit with this variant and we have a steep, steep [epidemiological] curve that’s ahead of us. And that is the unknown that epidemiologists in predicting our current circumstances and whether or not we’ve peaked are dealing with. We don’t know what this variant is going to do to us," Clark said.

A sharp rise in new cases would be a problem because while hospitalizations have been ticking down, they’re still high, and intensive care units are full.

"Our ICU capacity — we have no wiggle room. Most regions are dealing in single digits at any given time. The other day … the regional medical system that tracks beds was zero across the boards. And so, this is where we’re most concerned and where we have been concerned across the pandemic," Clark said.

Oklahoma is currently on track to surpass 1,000 COVID deaths in January and set a fourth straight monthly record for reported deaths.