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Oklahoma amid coronavirus: Experts recommend continued social distancing statewide

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A recent analysis from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation suggests that Oklahoma may be among several states that need to continue social distancing until late June or early July.

According to an article from Fox 23, IHME’s current projection for Oklahoma suggests that the state is currently in its peak week for daily deaths caused by COVID-19, and could see the maximum number of daily deaths begin falling quickly after April 25.

IHME officials warn, however, that completely relaxing social distancing measures too quickly could lead to another spike in infections, which would in turn cause a rise in the expected number of COVID-19 deaths. The current model assumes that social distancing protocols like continued and expansive testing, restrictions of large gatherings and contact tracing of potentially exposed individuals will be in place through May.

Newly reported cases in Oklahoma have ranged from 81 new infections on April 20 to 127 new cases on April 21, according to executive order reports from the Oklahoma State Department of Health.

“As we noted previously, the trajectory of the pandemic will change — and dramatically for the worse — if people ease up on social distancing or relax with other precautions,” IHME Director Christopher Murray said in an April 5 press release. “Our projections are strengthened by the new downturns in more regions. This is evidence that social distancing is crucial. Our forecasts assume that social distancing remains in place until the end of May.”

The IHME has suggested states like Hawaii, Montana, West Virginia and Vermont may now be safe enough to begin loosening social distancing measures, according to the article. Other states like Oklahoma, Arkansas, and North and South Dakota should wait until June or July to fully reopen, though.

“Now, the challenge — as well as opportunity — is for states to figure out how to reopen the U.S. economy and allow people to get back to work without sacrificing progress,” Murray said in the article. “Relaxing social distancing too soon carries great risks of a resurgence of new infections. No one wants to see this vicious cycle repeating itself.”

Local leaders in Oklahoma, like Norman Mayor Breea Clark, are already forming plans and asking for input on reopening businesses. Gov. Kevin Stitt has also been optimistic, noting that “(Oklahoma’s) cases are trending down and our curve is flattening” during an April 17 press conference, and that he hopes to lift some statewide restrictions by May 1.

Correction: This story was updated at 2:37 p.m. April 22 to clarify that the number of new COVID-19 infections reported on April 20 was 81. 

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