During a Public Health Roundtable hosted by U.S. Rep. Kendra Horn Friday morning, Dr. Dale Bratzler, OU’s Chief COVID Officer, updated viewers on the status of the COVID-19 pandemic in Oklahoma.
Friday, the state witnessed 747 new cases of the coronavirus and five new related deaths. As of Thursday, 621 Oklahomans were hospitalized, and the Oklahoma State Department of Health has reported 1,053 daily new infections on average over the past seven days. According to the state health department, Norman also had six deaths this week, the deadliest for the city to date.
Oklahoma is also catching up to Texas in the number of new cases per day per 100,000 residents. Bratzler said everyone knows Texas has big coronavirus numbers, but Oklahoma is right behind its southern neighbor. Oklahoma has 25 new cases per day for every 100,000 people, while Texas has 27 such cases every day.
As sickness totals continue to fluctuate, Oklahoma, Tulsa and Cleveland counties have been leaders in daily new cases and cumulative cases. Bratzler said in particular he’s concerned about Cleveland county as students prepare to return to OU’s Norman campus in the coming weeks.
Bratzler said although time has passed, and symptoms and other variables pertaining to the virus have changed, the main form of transmission is still person-to-person, making mask-wearing and social distancing practices increasingly important.
“When I'm speaking or even when I'm breathing, droplets come out of my mouth,” Bratzler said. “And if somebody is close to me — particularly not in a mask — they can inhale those droplets.”
Bratzler also referenced a study he shared in an OU Medicine update July 24 that reveals the Oklahoma counties housing large numbers of residents with underlying medical conditions. Those Oklahomans’ conditions put them at higher risk for severe viral complications.
“I think it's very important that people understand that here in Oklahoma, we don't have a terribly healthy population, and a lot of people are at risk of COVID-19,” Bratzler said. “There are some people who are more likely to get it, and if they get it they’re more likely to get really sick.”
While no cure for COVID-19 has been found yet, Bratzler has continually said he’s encouraged by the progress in vaccine cultivation. Both Moderna’s mRNA Vaccine and Oxford’s AstraZeneca shot have reached Phase III clinical trials and could be available by November.
“Despite what you read on social media, there are no medications, vitamins (or) supplements that have been shown to prevent this disease,” Bratzler said. “So right now the best thing we can do to prevent the disease is avoid being exposed to the disease.”
Amid the wait for a cure, Bratzler said he believes Oklahoma hospitalizations are trending downward due to improvements in treatment tactics. Dexamethasone and Remdesivir have continued to reduce mortality rates, and Bratzler said research continues to support monoclonal antibody drugs—remedies that stimulate the immune system to attack viruses within the body.
Finally, Bratzler addressed herd immunity during the latter minutes of his discourse, and critiqued the opinions of those who wish to spread the virus rapidly to attempt to develop herd immunity. Bratzler said 70 percent of Oklahomans, or 2.8 million people would have to be infected to develop such an immunity.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the death rate in COVID-19 cases is 0.65 percent. Bratzler said if the necessary number of residents were infected for herd immunity, over 18,000 of those Oklahomans would die — an unnecessary evil he said could be mitigated by proper safety precautions.
“Public health measures are the only game in town in terms of preventing the spread of this disease,” Bratzler said. “That includes avoiding crowds, wearing a mask, physical distancing, hand hygiene and other things that would help us prevent this. ... And then we need to make sure that we're putting in place policies that require those public health interventions in those settings.”