Health Care, Economy

Public Health chairman: Let Oklahomans go back to work

April 14, 2020

Ray Carter

The chairman of the state House Public Health Committee, who previously warned the threat of coronavirus was “quite real” and urged Oklahomans to “look at options where they can stay home and limit their exposure,” says it is now time to reopen society.

“I believe it is time to put our economy back on track and let Oklahomans go back to work,” said Rep. Sean Roberts, R-Hominy. “I further believe we can accomplish this while still using common sense social distancing practices.”

Roberts, a licensed physical therapist who chairs the House Public Health Committee, was among those who urged citizens to restrict their potential exposure to COVID-19 when the first cases of the virus were identified in Oklahoma.

In a March 16 statement, Roberts cautioned that the virus was “extremely far from just being the flu” and encouraged citizens to take major precautions.

“The impact of this disease, if looking at infection rates and mortality rates seen in other countries, shows that this can be the most threatening enemy to our society in living memory,” Roberts said at the time.

However, in a statement issued on April 14, Roberts said the subsequent actions taken in Oklahoma and across the country have resulted in “flattening the curve and saving countless lives.”

“As the Public Health Chairman, I am very thankful and humbled that Oklahomans rallied together and decided to heed these warnings to flatten the curve of infections,” Roberts said.

State officials recently announced that hospital admissions for COVID-19 had remained “flat” for 11 consecutive days. While deaths from COVID-19 have continued to increase, that is considered a lagging indicator of the disease’s spread.

Officials also said the state has sufficient capacity to treat all COVID-19 patients even at the expected peak of the disease later this month.

The main goal of forced business closures in Oklahoma and elsewhere was to slow the spread of the disease over a longer period of time to avoid overwhelming medical facilities, a goal that has apparently been met based on publicly released figures.

The University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) model projects Oklahoma will need 1,115 to 2,698 beds hospital beds for COVID-19 patients at the state’s peak rate of infection and hospitalization. Oklahoma has 4,633 hospital beds available specifically for COVID-19 patients.

The IHME also projects Oklahoma will need 229 intensive care unit (ICU) beds for COVID-19 patients at the disease’s peak. The governor recently reported that Oklahoma has “three times that many ICU beds available.”

IHME projects Oklahoma will require 195 ventilators at the state’s peak of COVID-19 hospitalizations and infections. The state has 1,800.

The economic cost of the government-ordered closure of businesses has been devastating. Earlier this month, officials said at least 135,000 Oklahomans have already filed unemployment claims amidst COVID-19 business closures. That number is expected to continue growing.

Roberts said members of the Oklahoma Legislature can “lead by example and get back to work at the Capitol for our constituents in May.”

“When this is all over, I hope we can look back and be proud of our actions in this time of trial,” he said.