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OU Chief COVID Officer Dr. Dale Bratzler gives update on Oklahoma's case load, testing capacity ahead of Labor Day

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Graphic of people wearing masks September 3. Students miss classes while waiting to be cleared by Goddard after filling out COVID-19 reporting tool, despite negative test results.

OU’s Chief COVID Officer Dr. Dale Bratzler updated the public on the pandemic during a Friday afternoon livestream.

Throughout the past week, 5,780 people have tested positive with an additional 60 deaths in Oklahoma, Bratzler said. There have been 62,040 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the state of Oklahoma and 846 deaths as of Sept. 4.

Bratzler said over 11 percent of tests ran in Oklahoma this week have come back positive. Hospitalizations have steadily decreased over the past week. On Thursday there were 518 Oklahomans in the hospital, 447 of those people with confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 193 in the Intensive Care Unit.

“The age group now that accounts for the most new cases on an average weekly basis in Oklahoma (is) the 15- to 24-year-old age group,” Bratzler said.

Bratzler talked about studies reporting on the use of corticosteroids that are widely available.

“The patients that were enrolled in these studies were all critically ill, seriously ill, there was a 34 percent reduction in the mortality rate,” Bratzler said.

Bratzler said using drugs like dexamethasone and hydrocortisone can reduce mortality for COVID-19 patients.

Bratzler said children are able to get infected and shed the virus longer, potentially spreading the disease more rapidly. The National Academy of Sciences released a draft Sept. 1 of their "Preliminary Framework of Equitable Allocation of COVID-19 Vaccine," discussing how the prioritization of a COVID-19 vaccine will work.

“Even when one of the vaccine companies gets their vaccine approved possibly through emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration, they’re still going to have to ramp up some of the production capability to actually get the vaccine out there for use,” Bratzler said. “It’s unclear to me how quickly they’ll … be able to … distribute the vaccine to get it on the front lines.”

First responders and health care workers are expected to be the first to receive an approved vaccine, Bratzler said.

“On the Norman campus we have 38,000 students, staff and faculty,” Bratzler said. “Although there's been an uptick in the number of cases ... we also know that it’s a very small proportion of the total student body, staff and faculty body on the campus.”

Bratzler said the university will continue to monitor the situation, but hopes to avoid closing down campus entirely.

“We will make decisions about whether we close, move to online, perhaps move some courses online and not move others online depending on the type of course,” Bratzler said. “The one thing we’re trying to avoid is just shutting down the entire campus.” 

Bratzler explained the difficulty in requiring COVID-19 testing for the OU community once per week lies with the state's inability to accommodate an additional 38,000 tests each week. 

“There is no lab that I’m aware of in the state that has the capacity to do 38,000 additional tests per week,” Bratzler said.

Bratzler also said testing is still very expensive and millions of dollars would be spent per week if OU implemented a weekly testing policy. Bratzler encouraged students to go to Goddard Health Services to get tested if necessary. 

“This week, in fact, we just opened a voluntary testing site on campus. We are specifically targeting those students that live in the university housing. We could do potentially up to 500 tests per day,” Bratzler said. 

Over the long weekend Dr. Bratzler encourages the OU community to try to avoid crowds, wear a mask, physically distance as much as possible, enhance hand hygiene, be careful about traveling and to wear masks even around family. 

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