OKLAHOMA CITY — Health officials warned Tuesday that Oklahoma is in the midst of a spike of COVID-19 cases that is straining the state’s health care system and has led to a shortage of monoclonal antibody treatments.
And as demand increases for COVID-19 testing, the state health department also announced Tuesday it will extend testing hours at county health departments and offer weekend availability at some locations.
“The number of new cases has just gone up very, very rapidly, and I don’t think we’re near the peak at this point,” said Dr. Dale Bratzler, chief COVID officer with the University of Oklahoma.
He said most of the new cases in the Oklahoma City area are the omicron variant, which is more infectious than earlier variants. Symptoms often resemble the common cold, including cough, fatigue and congestion.
Dr. Aaron Wendelboe, an epidemiologist and associate professor at the University of Oklahoma College of Public Health, said nearly 20,000 COVID-19 cases were reported in the last seven days, including over 4,100 new cases Tuesday. He said Oklahoma has already twice had more cases reported in a single day during the current surge than were reported in any single day during a similar surge of the delta variant in August.
Officials also are urging Oklahomans to get fully vaccinated.
Wendelboe also said hospitalizations had increased by 130 in a single day, and more than 1,000 people were hospitalized with COVID-19 in Oklahoma on Tuesday. He also said over 90% of hospitalizations involved unvaccinated patients.
Patti Davis, president of the Oklahoma Hospital Association, said hospitalization spikes typically lag positivity rates by about two weeks.
“Our hospitals are very much feeling the impact of these increased cases,” she said, adding that hospitals are not just filled with COVID-19 patients, but also those with other ailments, including the flu.
“We are very busy, and hospitals are fearing for what we’re seeing,” Davis said.
Medical providers statewide are also grappling with shortages of monoclonal antibody treatments, which can help limit the virus’ impact on those at high risk for COVID-19 complications. Davis said health care providers are having to prioritize who gets those treatments.
Hospitals also face staffing shortages as health care professionals retire early, leave to take less stressful jobs or are sidelined because they’re sick with the virus.
She urged Oklahomans not to come to hospitals to get tested for COVID-19.
Sequencing conducted by Oklahoma’s Public Health Laboratory found that 57% of the 306 tested cases were the omicron variant and 43% were delta, the State Department of Health said in a press release.
State health officials also said it currently takes the Public Health Lab two days to test samples for COVID-19, and it takes about five days to sequence a sample.
“Like other states, Oklahoma is seeing a rise in COVID-19 cases, however many other respiratory illnesses are occurring as well,” said Keith Reed, interim commissioner of health, in a statement. “We highly encourage anyone who is feeling ill to stay home from work, school and other activities and schedule a COVID-19 test or appointment with their physician. Staying home while awaiting your appointment, results and for your symptoms to clear is important for your health and will help prevent the spread of illness.”
Janelle Stecklein covers the Oklahoma Statehouse for CNHI’s newspapers and websites. Reach her at email@example.com.