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OU chief COVID officer warns state trending in wrong direction as hospitalizations rise

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Dale Bratzler

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

Following a spike in coronavirus cases in Cleveland County and the state of Oklahoma on Tuesday, OU Medicine chief COVID officer Dr. Dale Bratzler addressed the media about concerns related to the spike in positive tests.

Cleveland County became host to 12 new cases of the virus Tuesday, while the statewide total of confirmed cases rose to 8,645. In the course of two weeks, the number of new statewide cases has nearly doubled from 119 to 228 — the highest number of new daily cases to date.

Amid a startling uptick in illnesses, Bratzler said he continues to promote caution and safety to the Oklahoma community while warning citizens the state is trending down the wrong path.

“When we talk about bending the curve, you can see I've been plotting this pandemic outbreak now since it started,” Bratzler said. “And I just put a simple, straight trendline on the data and nothing had moved beyond that first week of April. We just had a steady-but-slow progression in the new cases during that time, but over the past week or so, we've seen a substantial increase in the number of new cases. So we are bending the curve, sadly, in the wrong direction.”

Among the things Bratzler made clear in the media conference was that an increase in the number of tests conducted is not the reason for more positive cases, contrary to what Gov. Kevin Stitt told reporters Monday.

Bratzler said the state peaked at 37,000 tests conducted during the week of May 17 — an effort that yielded only 1.8 percent positive tests. In comparison, the state conducted only 30,000 tests last week but saw a much higher positivity rate of 4.6 percent. As of yesterday, six percent of state tests came back positive.

Bratzler said a better indicator of where the state stands currently is hospitalization numbers. As of today, 172 Oklahomans have been hospitalized due to possible or confirmed cases — the highest amount since May 28.

Braztler said he expects that number to continue to rise in the coming days because those statistics often lag behind confirmed case numbers.

Asked if the state should consider implementing restrictions similar to the shutdowns of April and May should new cases continue to rise substantially, Bratzler said he hopes it doesn’t come to that.

“I, as much as anybody else, want to reopen the state,” Bratzler said. “We opened up restaurants, you can go out (and) do things, businesses are open, but there was still the expectation even in those reopening plans that you physically distance and that you wear a mask, and I think that's where we've gotten lax in Oklahoma.”

Bratzler also cited the density of people in close spaces as a leading contributor to transmission of the virus, while reinforcing that the number one way to avoid illness is wearing a mask when going to large public gatherings like President Donald Trump’s highly anticipated rally in Tulsa Saturday.

According to Bratzler, a recent study showed wearing a mask can reduce the risk of infection by almost 85 percent.

Bratzler said outside activities are much safer than indoor gatherings, while also reminding Oklahomans they still need to proceed with caution. Ultimately, he said he encouraged people to continue to get outside with their families and enjoy the summer, but did not give Oklahomans license to disregard safety measures.

“Reopening (the state) did not mean (returning) to normal,” Bratzler said. “Reopening means that we can go out and participate in business activities and other things, but we still have to wear a mask. We still need to practice physical distancing, because those are the interventions that are the best (at) preventing person-to-person transmission of the virus, so that’s the most important thing.”

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