COVID-19

Mike Simons / Tulsa World pool photo

While federal officials continue debating who should receive COVID booster shots, Oklahoma health officials say they are ready to give them as soon as the green light is given.

An FDA advisory panel last week recommended third Pfizer shots for Americans 65 and up, six months after their second doses, but it was overwhelmingly against boosters for younger people because of a lack of data indicating a strong benefit. The same panel may also recommend the boosters for people at higher risk of infection because of their jobs, like health care providers and teachers.

Lance Cpl. Natalie Greenwood / U.S. Marine Corps

Efforts are ramping up to once again provide free, widespread COVID-19 testing in Oklahoma.

The number of tests performed statewide has steadily increased since mid-July during a sharp rise in cases, but many public and private testing sites closed in the weeks after Oklahoma came out of a winter surge because of low demand. 

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Oklahoma Attorney General John O’Connor has joined 23 other state attorneys general threatening legal action over a new federal mandate for some employers to require weekly COVID testing or vaccination.

A letter dated Thursday calls President Joe Biden’s plan to order the Department of Labor to issue an emergency rule covering employers with at least 100 workers "disastrous and counterproductive."

The White House says a COVID-19 treatment the federal government recently spent almost $3 billion on will be distributed according to states' needs, just as demand for it grows in Oklahoma. 

"Our role as the government overseeing the entire country is to be equitable in how we distribute. We are not going to give a greater percentage to Florida over Oklahoma," White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said during a briefing.

Oklahoma Watch

The Oklahoma state departments of health and education are rolling out optional but free in-school testing to screen for COVID-19.

Testing supplies are being covered by a federal grant. Deputy State Health Commissioner Keith Reed said as of last week, 40 of the state’s 500-plus districts had opted in, and kits are already being distributed, though he acknowledged school started a month ago.

Photo from World Health Organization

While COVID hospitalizations in Tulsa County are dropping, new cases remain stubbornly high, and who is testing positive has shifted.

Adults 18 to 35 years old continue to account for the largest proportion of new cases; last week, 30%. But adults 36 to 49 years old have fallen from the second- to the third-largest group.

Oklahoma Supreme Court Agrees To Expedite AG's Mask Appeal

Sep 17, 2021
Oklahoma City Public Schools

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — The Oklahoma Supreme Court will expedite an appeal of an injunction limiting a ban on mask mandates in public schools.

The court, in an order dated Wednesday, placed the appeal on its fast-track docket, giving Attorney General John O’Connor 20 days to file briefs in the case and opponents 20 days to respond.

The appeal argued the law passed earlier this year by the Legislature is constitutional.

Matt Trotter / KWGS

A Tulsa Public Schools teacher has died from COVID-19.

District officials confirmed the teacher's death late Wednesday. They declined to identify the teacher or the school they taught at.

The district issued a statement calling the teacher's death "heartbreaking."

"Every loss of a team member means that others have lost a child, parent, spouse, grandparent, aunt, uncle, friend, colleague, or mentor.

NIAID-RML

One of Oklahoma’s leading COVID experts said Wednesday while transmission remains high in the state, trends are headed in the right direction.

OU Chief COVID Officer Dr. Dale Bratzler said Oklahoma has fallen out of the top 10 in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's seven-day rate of new cases per 100,000 residents. But he warned the state isn’t out of the woods yet when it comes to hospitals being overwhelmed.

Central states center for agricultural safety and health

The Oklahoma Hospital Association reacts to stories that an emergency room doctor lied to the media about rampant ivermectin overdoses in the state. 

 

“Sensational headlines get attention,” said OHA President Patti Davis. “I think the lesson learned for all of us that do media briefings is that the potential for things to be sensationalized is always out there.”

 

Local mental health professionals are seeing the same problem as hospitals at this point in the COVID-19 pandemic: too many patients.

Laureate Psychiatric Hospital and Clinic psychiatrist Dr. Scott Moseman said in his experience, a lot of the need for treatment stems from growing stress on families with kids in school, but there aren’t enough mental health providers to go around.

Chris Polansky / KWGS News

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Oklahoma Attorney General John O’Connor has appealed a state judge’s temporary injunction that prohibits the state from banning mask mandates in public schools.

The appeal, filed Thursday, cited the state’s sovereign immunity and argued that the law passed earlier this year by the Legislature is constitutional.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

The latest coronavirus variant of interest has been confirmed in Oklahoma.

The Oklahoma State Department of Health says the Mu variant appeared in 13 lab samples between May 20 and Aug. 10. The World Health Organization has designated Mu a variant of interest because preliminary evidence shows it may be able to escape antibodies acquired through vaccination or previous infection.

Another Tulsa school district is implementing a mask requirement.

The Union Public Schools Board voted 4–0 in a special meeting Friday in favor of mask mandates that apply to all students, employees and visitors while indoors on school property. The mandates kick in Wednesday but allow medical and religious exemptions, and people can opt out on the basis of "strongly held personal reasons."

Superintendent Dr. Kirt Hartzler recommended the mandates earlier this week. Board member Dr. Chris McNeil was absent Friday.

U.S. Department of Defense

Oklahoma health officials said Thursday while state- and hospital-reported capacity numbers are not matching up, they are aware of the strain on health care facilities because of an influx of COVID-19 patients.

State Health Commissioner Dr. Lance Frye said the issue is the state health department and hospitals give point-in-time counts at different times, and data comes second to patient care, so it may not always be exact. Frye said the health department is working with hospitals to close reporting gaps.

The medical community is largely in agreement that COVID-19 is or will inevitably become a fixture of life, meaning it’s endemic. 

 

Jennifer Clark of OSU’s Project ECHO spoke today at an update for healthcare providers.

 

“One of the things that’s become a consensus believe it or not is that COVID-19 is likely now endemic. Early on, particularly as the vaccines were rolling out with the effectiveness and the efficiency that we started with, there was a potential for us a species to eradicate COVID-19. Unfortunately we missed it.”

 

Matt Trotter / KWGS

State and local officials celebrated on Tuesday the opening of a tech incubator inside Tulsa City Hall.

There are now 50,000 square feet on the fifth floor of One Technology Center available for entrepreneurs looking to get their ideas off the ground through 36 Degrees North, which also has two coworking spaces in the Tulsa Arts District. CEO Devon Laney said the incubator is more than a place to bounce ideas off of other people.

Saint Francis Health System

COVID-19 admissions are rising "exponentially" at the Children's Hospital at Saint Francis, doctors said Tuesday.

"You're going to see about a six and a half-time increase in hospitalizations" from the start of June through the end of August, said Dr. Travis Campbell, chair of the pediatrics department and the children's hospital, said during a virtual press briefing Tuesday afternoon. 

Photo via Corian.com

Hospital officials told Oklahoma lawmakers on Tuesday they are struggling with the latest COVID-19 surge because there are not enough nurses to go around, hurting patient care and their bottom lines.

With Oklahoma hospitals reporting some patients dying waiting for care at over-capacity hospitals and some being transferred to facilities in farflung states like South Dakota and Idaho amid the current COVID surge, the state's top health official said Thursday he believes state hospitals have the ability to take on more patients than they are.

Facebook / Mayor Will Joyce

The mayor of Stillwater declared a state of emergency Thursday, saying the current surge in COVID cases had pushed the local hospital system to the brink.

"Our health professionals have incessantly warned us that we may reach the point when much-needed medical attention, COVID or non-COVID related, may not be available,” Mayor Will Joyce said in a news release. “We have now reached that critical threshold where our hospital no longer has available staffed beds and without each of us making necessary health changes, the trajectory is anticipated to continue declining.”

NIAID-RML

According to the latest state epidemiology report, between August 22nd and August 28th, COVID cases rose in the state 33%. But test positivity has slumped from a recent high of around 25% to 18%.

Dr. David Kendrick, chair of medical informatics at University of Oklahoma, says the difference is because testing has increased significantly in the state.

“There’s three times as much testing happening now then was happening in July. Now we’re in a situation where we have known exposures coming in. And so people are getting tests to prove they aren’t positive.”

Oklahoma construction firms are 33% more likely than the country as a whole to say a worker shortage is making projects take longer to finish, and vaccine hesitancy appears not to be helping matters for anyone.

According to a 2021 workforce survey by Associated General Contractors of America, 81% of Oklahoma firms responding said a labor shortage is holding up projects, compared to 61% of firms nationwide.

Nationally and in Oklahoma, more than 80% of companies said they are having a hard time finding laborers, truck drivers and a variety of trades.

Oklahoma's Ban On School Mask Mandates Is On Hold. Here's What You Need To Know

Sep 1, 2021
Whitney Bryen / Oklahoma Watch

Oklahoma’s law preventing schools from mandating masks is temporarily on hold due to a judge’s ruling Wednesday morning. 

Whitney Bryen / Oklahoma Watch

Updated Sept. 1, 6:15 p.m.

Tulsa City Councilors on Wednesday approved a proposal to spend almost $1.8 million in federal virus relief program on a campaign encouraging employees to get vaccinated.

The city’s American Rescue Plan Working group pitched giving employees who are or who get fully vaccinated $250. They must do so by Oct. 15 to receive the stipend

Workers in departments that hit a 70% vaccination rate can receive another $250 beginning Nov. 1.

Roland Leach / U.S. Air Force

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — An Oklahoma judge on Wednesday said she will temporarily block a state law banning public school mask mandates, but students or their parents can opt out of the requirement if they choose.

Judge Natalie Mai said she will issue a temporary injunction that will go into effect next week when she issues a written order detailing her ruling. Mai said she is blocking the law because it applies only to public, not private, schools and that schools adopting a mask mandate must provide an option for parents or students to opt out of the requirement.

Oxygen Supplies Grow Precarious Amid COVID Surge

Aug 31, 2021

MISSION, Kan. (AP) — The COVID-19 surge is stretching oxygen supplies and sending hospitals scrambling for more ventilators, even as there are signs of hope that the spread of the virus is slowing down in pockets of the U.S.

OKC Council Rejects Proposed Mask Mandate

Aug 31, 2021

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — The Oklahoma City Council rejected a proposal Tuesday that would have reinstituted a mask mandate.

The council voted after hearing from dozens of residents in a packed room, most of whom opposed the mandate. One compared a mask requirement to Jim Crow laws.

“You couldn’t eat at a restaurant because you’re Black. You’re taking somebody’s individual freedom away” by mandating that people wear masks, James Rainey said.

Matt Trotter / KWGS

Tulsa Transit is studying a policy to encourage employees to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

General Manager Ted Rieck told the transit board of trustees on Tuesday they’ve hit a plateau at around 50% vaccinated. 

"In order to protect the employees as well as the riders, we want to get to a higher percentage compliance. So, we are going to study — we're certainly not ready to make a decision yet — whether to require either a vaccination or weekly testing of employees," Rieck said.

St. Francis Health System Supports City Mask Mandate

Aug 31, 2021

Mayor G.T. Bynum has said he isn’t able to support a mask mandate for the city of Tulsa without encouragement from the medical community. 

 

During a Monday press conference, St. Francis Health System CEO Dr. Cliff Robertson spoke in favor of masks for everyone.

 

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