COVID cases continue to rise in Oklahoma, health officials urge vaccinations

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Jul. 9—As Oklahoma and Norman's COVID-19 case counts begin to rise again, experts say nearly all new cases could be entirely prevented by getting vaccinated.

The Oklahoma State Health Department reported that the state's seven-day rolling average of new cases is at 314, the highest level it has been since mid-April. Norman is not considered a hotspot, according to the state health department, but cases are rising.

"I am monitoring this jump in new cases closely," Norman Mayor Breea Clark said in a Facebook post. "Get vaccinated, friends. As of yesterday, all of the COVID cases in the ICU at Norman Regional were unvaccinated. Get it done!"

Norman Regional did not immediately respond to a request to deny or confirm this anecdote.

The Transcript asked Clark, via text, if she had resumed task force meetings, if she is considering bringing back the mask mandate or any other restrictions and what criteria would ultimately trigger the decision to bring them back. She answered the task force question, but sidestepped the two about further COVID-19 restrictions.

"The task force never stopped meeting," Clark responded. "We are meeting as a small group every other week. Dr. [Dale] Bratzler sends me numbers every Wednesday, and I have an open line of communication with Mr. [Richie] Splitt regarding our hospital numbers. At this time, I am monitoring the situation closely and continue to encourage everyone to get vaccinated."

During a press conference Friday, officials at the health department stressed the importance of getting vaccinated.

According to State Epidemiologist Jolianne Stone, as of July 8, almost 1.5 million Oklahomans have received both doses of the COVID-19 vaccine. The state has only reported 896 breakthrough COVID cases, she said.

"This represents less than .06% of those fully vaccinated in Oklahoma," she said.

Oklahoma's numbers further solidify the importance of vaccines, health officials said. Especially with new, more transmissible variants popping up across the state, getting vaccinated is of the utmost importance, they said.

"From disease, hospitalization and death data across the nation to locally, we can see that unvaccinated individuals remain at highest risk for COVID-19 infection, hospitalization and death," said Sara King, health education supervisor at the Cleveland County Health Department. "COVID-19 vaccines are saving lives and preventing severe illness. It's not too late to get vaccinated, it's not too late to protect yourself and your family. Visit vaccinate.Oklahoma.gov to find an appointment or walk in to any of our Cleveland County Health Department locations to get your vaccine."

Delta Variant

The Delta Variant has also become a topic of concern in Oklahoma.

Early Friday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published a report showing that from April 15 to May 3 of this year, an outbreak of 47 Delta Variant cases was reported at a gymnastics studio in Central Oklahoma. The outbreak occurred at a Cleveland County studio, Stone said.

According to the report, 85% of the associated cases in this outbreak were among people who had not received any COVID-19 vaccine doses. The report also said that two adults, both unvaccinated, were hospitalized because of the Delta outbreak.

Stone said the state is very fortunate it was able to contain the outbreak within the gymnastics studio.

"A lot of the CDC's words were, 'This is one of the best responses [we've] seen in association with a cluster of COVID with a variant,'" Stone said at the press conference.

Though no restrictions have been announced locally or statewide, State Commissioner of Health Dr. Lance Frye said people should still gather outside or mask inside if they're not vaccinated.

Frye also said the best way to prevent COVID-19 is to get vaccinated. To schedule a vaccine appointment, visit vaccinate.oklahoma.gov.

Mindy Ragan Wood contributed to this report.

Reese Gorman covers COVID-19, local politics and elections for The Transcript; reach him at rgorman@normantranscript.com or @reeseg_3.

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