‘We are in good shape’: As Oklahoma prepares for COVID surge, leaders say the state is well-equipped

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Gov. Kevin Stitt speaks during a press conference in Oklahoma City, Okla. on Tuesday, April 7, 2020 where the State of Oklahoma has amassed it stockpile of personal protection equipment and medical supplies for the State’s COVID-19 response. [Chris Landsberger/The Oklahoman]
Oklahoma hospitals are bracing for an expected COVID-19 patient surge, but the state is equipped to handle patient capacities even in the “worst case scenario,” officials said Friday.

The outbreak has not yet reached its patient peak in Oklahoma, but as the state prepares for one that is projected to be just under two weeks away, Gov. Kevin Stitt said there is reason to be cautiously optimistic.

The state has enough hospital beds, intensive care beds and ventilators to treat the sickest COVID-19 patients, Stitt said at a press conference at the OSU Centers for Health Sciences Center in Tulsa on Friday.

“We have created tremendous capacity,” Stitt said. “Oklahomans, we are in good shape.”

The governor also offered the first glimpse at modeling from state researchers, which shows a peak on April 21. Stitt also referenced the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation’s modeling for the state, which indicates social distancing measures are working to flatten the infection curve.

The state’s model projects a total of 9,300 confirmed cases and 469 deaths by May 1. The estimate is lower than the IHME model for Oklahoma, which projects 549 deaths by May 1 and a total of 965 deaths by August 4. 

Though models are imprecise, they’re useful to officials and hospital leaders as a tool to plan for patient surges. Modeling, which changes as data is gathered, can indicate how much hospitals need to expand their capacities and how quickly.

At Oklahoma’s peak, the state’s model projects 915 COVID-19 patients in the hospital and 458 patients in the ICU. The model used a range of fatality rates from between 2 percent to 5 percent, and a similar approach was used for hospitalizations. 

Those projections assume social distancing measures will remain in place until May 1. 

The model projects Oklahoma will need 1,115 hospital beds, and on the high end would need up to 2,698 beds. Oklahoma has 4,633 beds specifically for COVID-19 patients, Stitt said.

The state could need 229 intensive care beds, the model indicates, but Oklahoma has three times that number available in the state, Stitt said.

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

The state is projected to need 195 ventilators at the peak, but Oklahoma has 1,800 available, the governor said, which is more than the state would need even on the high end of estimates.

As Oklahoma approached 90 reported COVID-related deaths on Friday and neared 1,800 known cases, Stitt said he was cautiously optimistic about the state’s hospitalization trends and that they had remained flat for 11 days. The state has seen 428 total hospitalizations, according to the Oklahoma State Department of Health.

But Stitt stressed that though Oklahoma’s curve appeared to be flattening, it was no time to stop social distancing measures, which he credited for the state’s progress. Those measures go through April 31.

Oklahoma Hospital Association President Patti Davis said the state surveyed hospitals across the state to determine if they had enough beds and ventilators.

“We are ready as we can be for what may be coming at us,” Davis said.

The governor last month suspended all nonessential and elective procedures until April 30 in an effort to reserve protective gear, such as face masks.

Seventy-two hospitals in the state have ventilator capability, which is the most critical need for those with the most dire cases of COVID-19, she said. Ventilators help those patients breathe and can be the difference between life and death.

The surge plan involves keeping patients in the region is possible, and if patients need a higher level of care in Tulsa or Oklahoma City, they will be transferred in, Davis said.

In an “abundance of caution” in the case all hospitals reached capacity, the state is planning four surge hospitals in Oklahoma City and Tulsa, Davis said. Two hospitals would be for COVID patients, and two would be for non-COVID patients, she said.

OSU Medical Center would be that hospital for COVID-19 patients in Tulsa, and the Oklahoma City location would be announced “very soon,” Davis said.

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Kassie McClung

Staff writer

Kassie McClung joined The Frontier in May 2016. She reports on health, criminal justice and other state issues. Kassie holds a bachelors degree in multimedia journalism from Oklahoma State University. She likes dogs, maps and data. She can be reached at Kassie@readfrontier.com or 918-935-1044. Follow her on Twitter @KassieMcClung.
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