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OU Chief COVID Officer Dr. Dale Bratzler warns of potential return to mitigation strategies, stresses CDC guidelines

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Dale Bratzler

OU Chief COVID Officer Dr. Dale Bratzler in his office Oct. 12, 2020.

With a new statewide high of 13.2 percent positive in COVID-19 tests, OU Chief COVID Officer Dr. Dale Bratzler said Oklahoma may soon need to reinstate mitigation strategies such as restricting business capacities and closing schools.

During the OU Health weekly COVID-19 update Friday morning, Bratzler was joined by Dr. Cameron Mantor, OU Health acting Chief Medical Officer, to discuss the rise in cases in Oklahoma. Both stressed that hospitals and medical personnel are doing everything they can, but the only way to stop the spread of COVID-19 is for Oklahoma communities to take CDC guidelines seriously.

“We're back to the point where we're having to start thinking about mitigation strategies, which are these broad approaches to slowing the spread of the virus that include things like wearing a mask,” Bratzler said, “and potentially, as the White House Task Force has recommended, limiting some capacity in restaurants, bars and other things, so that we slow the spread of the disease. Because we can't keep up with it. And we can't contain everybody right now.”

During a Nov. 10 press conference with Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt, Mantor and several other state health officials echoed similar sentiments, noting hospitals and medical staff are very near to being overwhelmed statewide.

There are currently 1,202 people in the hospital with a confirmed COVID-19 case in Oklahoma, Bratzler said, and 345 of those are in an intensive care unit bed.

“Hospitals, doctors, nurses, we can't stop the pandemic,” Mantor said. “It has to happen in the communities. … Medicines can help us treat patients when they're ill, but unless … (communities) blunt the curve, we as hospital systems are going to become overwhelmed at some point.”

Today there are 24,091 known active cases in the state, with 15,607 new cases and 64 deaths reported this week, Bratzler said. There is indication of substantial community spread, especially in rural communities, he said. Data in Cleveland County, Norman and the OU Norman campus indicates cases are rising across the community.

With numbers continuing to rise, Bratzler said not only are hospitals expected to be overwhelmed but contact tracers and testing capacity are as well.

“Some laboratories have been notifying us that they no longer have the capability to provide free testing because CARES Act funding is waning,” Bratzler said.

With the entire state seeing 53 new cases a day per 100,000 population, Bratzler said he expects many counties to have to move from the Orange Level to the Red Level, resulting in many school districts moving to virtual learning.

“I know the school districts and school boards are very challenged to figure out what's best to do, balancing keeping people safe, reducing spread of the virus, with the benefits of being in the classroom for students,” Bratzler said. “I won't be surprised if we see more school districts (move online).”

At the Norman Regional hospital, adult patients are no longer allowed any visitors, Mantor said. This is the “last thing hospitals want to do,” and he said he hopes the OU Medicine Children’s Hospital will not need to make this move.

However, restricting hospital visitors has become necessary as the virus continues to spread in the community.

“If we continue to see the rise of positive patients and the need for hospital admissions that we've been seeing over the past number of weeks, we will be in a spot where we either can't take care of a COVID patient, or we can't take care of a patient with heart disease, or a level one trauma patient or someone with a newly diagnosed cancer,” Mantor said. “That could be you, it could be your grandmother, it could be your child. We as a population who live in this state have to be part of the solution.”

Jana Hayes is a senior reporter on The Daily's news desk. She is a journalism senior and has worked at The Daily since her freshman year, having held several reporter and editor positions on both the news and enterprise desks.

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