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OU Chief COVID Officer Dale Bratzler expresses concern about spike in cases ahead of Trump rally

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Dale Bratzler

Dr. Dale Bratzler of OU Medicine was named chief COVID officer for the university on June 8.

While Oklahoma continues to reopen amid the COVID-19 pandemic, record amounts of new coronavirus cases have been reported in the state this week.

On Thursday, a statewide high of 450 infections was reported by the Oklahoma State Department of Health, shattering the previous mark of 259 new cases set Wednesday. Friday, 352 new cases were reported, an amount still considerably higher than numbers earlier in June.

Oklahoma has seen 265 new cases per day on average this week, up from 91 per day two weeks ago. As numbers skyrocket again, some state leaders continue to promote caution while others are more vocally optimistic about continuing to reopen.

Oklahoma City Mayor David Holt and Norman Mayor Breea Clark have both been active on social media, encouraging residents to observe social distancing guidelines, wear masks and wash their hands.

“The time to ‘consider’ following the guidelines is over,” Clark said on Twitter Thursday. “If you have ever worn a seatbelt, helmet (or) hardhat, then you know how this works, but with masks, you protect yourself and others. Be a good neighbor and follow the guidelines.”

Meanwhile, Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum said he remains optimistic about reopening his city due to its high hospital capacity. Tulsa’s Bank of Oklahoma Center is set to hold a reelection campaign rally for President Donald Trump on Saturday for which over one million tickets have been requested. 

While attendees’ temperatures will be checked at the door, social distancing, mask-wearing and other protective measures will not be required.

“We do this as our positive COVID-19 cases are rising, but while our hospital capacity remains strong,” Bynum said on Facebook Friday. “Some think it is great, some think it is reckless. Regardless of where each of us falls on that spectrum, we will go through it as a community.”

Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt appeared on Fox News’ "America’s Newsroom" Friday and said he is also optimistic about the rally and hopes it will help Oklahomans to get back to pre-virus life.

“Do we really think that in July or August or October that coronavirus is not going to be here,” Stitt said. “We’ve got to learn to deal with this. We’ve got to learn to be safe and take precautions, but we’ve got to learn to also live our lives.”

Despite the increase in reported cases, Stitt said he feels that now is a safe time for the rally because Oklahoma’s hospitalizations are down from their previous peak of 560 in March.

However, hospitalizations are on the rise again, as 211 Oklahomans were hospitalized today with confirmed COVID-19 cases, as opposed to 69 people on June 1.

OU Chief COVID-19 Officer Dr. Dale Bratzler said he remains concerned about the rising number of cases and hospitalizations while also expressing worry about Saturday’s rally.

“Any time you pack a lot of people into an indoor space, you dramatically increase the risk of person to person transmission of the virus,” Bratzler told The OU Daily in an interview Friday. “Oklahoma tends to be fairly independently-minded and a lot of people said they're not going to wear a mask, which is sad because of all the things we could do if we're going to put that many people in any enclosed indoor space, the number one intervention that would reduce transmission and infection would be for people to wear a mask.”

Bratzler also said that Gov. Stitt “flat-out lied” during a White House press conference with President Trump Thursday in which he said positive cases are increasing because the state is doing more testing. Bratzler said less testing is being done, but with a greater positive case yield than before.

Stitt said he was also optimistic because only three people younger than 50 were reported to have died from COVID-19 in Oklahoma. He said seventy-five percent of all new cases are found in individuals under that age.

Bratzler pointed out that though that may be the case, those under 50 years old don’t match the demographic of many who will head to Tulsa tomorrow to support Trump. He said he expects a lot of voters who attend the rally will be over 50, putting them at higher risk for contracting the virus.

Bratzler said he and other doctors will be watching carefully a week from Saturday to see what kind of effects the rally has on Oklahoma cases and hospitalization numbers. Though he said he believes Oklahoma has the hospital capacity to host more people, Bratzler said that doesn’t necessarily justify the hosting of the Trump rally or other mass gatherings like it that ignore safety precautions.

“To me it's kind of like saying, ‘Don't go get your cancer screening because don't worry, we have plenty of cancer surgeons and chemotherapy drugs to treat you when you get cancer,’” Bratzler said. “It's just an immoral argument that because we have more hospital beds, it's okay to just let the virus go ahead and spread.”

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