Culture & the Family

Ray Carter | April 10, 2020

Oklahoma COVID trends remain positive

Ray Carter

Hospitalizations for COVID-19 have been flat for close to two weeks now and projections show the state has far more capacity than required to address the expected peak rate of hospitalizations, officials said Friday.

“We are in good shape in the state of Oklahoma on total beds, ICU (intensive care unit) beds, and ventilators,” said Gov. Kevin Stitt.

“We are ready as we can be for what may be coming at us,” said Patti Davis, president of the Oklahoma Hospital Association.

Continuing a trend announced several days prior, Stitt said the number of patients requiring hospitalization for COVID-19 has stalled in Oklahoma.

“We have remained flat for the last 11 days,” he said.

Stitt noted that the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) model “shows that Oklahoma is flattening our curve.”

The IHME projects Oklahoma will need 1,115 hospital beds for COVID-19 patients with 2,698 beds required under the model’s worst-case scenario.

“The great news is Oklahoma has 4,633 hospital beds specifically designed for COVID patients in the state of Oklahoma, so we have created tremendous capacity,” Stitt said. “Oklahomans, we’re in good shape.”

The IHME also projects Oklahoma will need 229 ICU beds for COVID-19 patients. Stitt said the state has “three times that many ICU beds available in the state of Oklahoma.”

“Even on the high end of the peak, we’re still in good shape,” Stitt said.

IHME projects Oklahoma will require 195 ventilators at the state’s peak of COVID-19 hospitalizations and infections. Stitt said the state has 1,800 available, “more than we’re going to need even at the large end of the peak.”

Davis said 72 hospitals have ventilators, “and this is by far the most critical need and the most serious patients.”

Davis said COVID-19 patients who require hospitalization will be kept in their local region unless hospitals reach their capacity, a scenario she indicated is now unlikely. Should that happen, patients will be directed to four facilities: two facilities each in Oklahoma City and Tulsa, with each city having one designated COVID facility and one non-COVID facility to handle overflow patients from other hospitals across Oklahoma.

Models devised by state officials differ somewhat from the IHME projections, Stitt said, but also show Oklahoma in a good position to handle any anticipated surge.

For example, the state model shows Oklahoma’s peak will be on April 21 and that the state will require fewer hospital beds than what IHME projects, but more ICU beds, Stitt said.

“Either way, we’re in good shape,” Stitt said.

However, he cautioned that the models could be incorrect the same way 10-day weather forecasts often change significantly.

There’s reason to think the announcement could understate the positive nature of COVID-19 trends in Oklahoma since the IHME model cited by Stitt has dramatically over-projected the severity of medical needs in many instances.

On April 2, IHME projections showed that cumulative COVID-19 deaths in the United States could reach 178,000, which was the upper range of the model’s projections. By April 8, the IHME model’s worst-case scenario was revised down to a top end of 126,000.

Alex Berenson, a former reporter for the New York Times and prominent critic of many COVID-19 models, has noted the downward revision was not due to the impact of social-distancing and state lockdowns since those actions were factored into original projections.

He has argued many COVID models assumed lockdowns came too late in places like New York, which meant infections and hospitalizations would be far higher. Instead, the numbers came down or flattened at a time when the models assumed they would be increasing.

“The models didn’t fail last week because they UNDERESTIMATED the effect of the lockdowns,” Berenson tweeted. “They failed because they OVERESTIMATED the effect.”

Nationally, there have been other instances where officials’ reliance on COVID-19 projections led to wasteful action.

Earlier this week, Washington state Gov. Jay Inslee announced that a Department of Defense field hospital set up to deal with COVID-19 patient overflow was being closed. The closure came only three days after officials had announced the hospital could receive patients.

In a press release, Inslee said the field hospital had been requested because state officials “had considerable concerns that our hospitals would be overloaded with COVID-19 cases,” but those fears had proved unfounded. The National Public Radio affiliate in that state, KUOW, reported, “The facility did not see any patients during the time it was slated to operate in Seattle.”

Stitt also indicated officials are working on strategies to end the state shutdown ordered because of COVID-19.

“We think we’re going to be a national leader on an antibody test,” Stitt said. “We have some labs right now proofing some antibody testing. That is going to be a game-changer for Oklahoma and the nation when we can test the general population of who’s been exposed and who has already developed antibodies.”

He said the availability of those tests will be crucial “to get everybody back to work” and “get this in the rear-view mirror.”

Ray Carter Director, Center for Independent Journalism

Ray Carter

Director, Center for Independent Journalism

Ray Carter is the director of OCPA’s Center for Independent Journalism. He has two decades of experience in journalism and communications. He previously served as senior Capitol reporter for The Journal Record, media director for the Oklahoma House of Representatives, and chief editorial writer at The Oklahoman. As a reporter for The Journal Record, Carter received 12 Carl Rogan Awards in four years—including awards for investigative reporting, general news reporting, feature writing, spot news reporting, business reporting, and sports reporting. While at The Oklahoman, he was the recipient of several awards, including first place in the editorial writing category of the Associated Press/Oklahoma News Executives Carl Rogan Memorial News Excellence Competition for an editorial on the history of racism in the Oklahoma legislature.

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