State officials are considering new restrictions to combat the spread of COVID-19, as Oklahoma grapples with a record number of new infections and hospitalizations.
Oklahoma reported 4,507 new infections on Saturday, the largest single-day increase yet, sending the state’s seven-day moving average of new cases to nearly 2,050 new cases per day.
At least 1,444 Oklahomans have died so far, according to state health data. Hospitalizations have climbed in recent weeks.
Health Commissioner Dr. Lance Frye said the jump in cases wasn’t an anomaly “but instead shows community spread is occurring.”
Should the upward trend continue, state officials will implement new restrictions, which could include limiting restaurant and bar capacity, closing bars, limiting large gatherings and restricting spectators at indoor sporting events, Frye said during a call with reporters on Monday afternoon.
Frye said “there’s nothing off the table” for what the governor’s office is considering, but Stitt is studying data to determine what actions might offer the most mitigation.
“I don’t really know what actions and when, but I definitely know he’s looking at all the different options,” Frye said.
Gov. Kevin Stitt’s office declined to comment on specific restrictions Monday afternoon, but noted Stitt would hold a news conference Tuesday.
The health commissioner said while he recommends mask wearing, he doesn’t believe a mask mandate would be effective for Oklahoma.
“I don’t think a mask mandate, first of all, is enforceable, but secondly, I’ve had multiple people come up to me and tell me, ‘Hey, I’ll wear a mask, but don’t tell me to wear a mask because then I’m not going to do it.’”
Frye, echoing a phrase Stitt has often said, told reporters he believes mask wearing and preventing the spread of the virus is about “personal responsibility.”
Despite calls from health advocates in the state, the governor several times throughout the pandemic has said he would not consider a mask mandate. City governments, such as Tulsa, Norman and Oklahoma City, have enacted their own mandates.
On March 24, Stitt issued an executive order that closed nonessential businesses in counties that had at least one confirmed case of COVID-19, which at the time affected 19 counties. The order suspended elective surgeries and directed vulnerable Oklahomans to stay home.
By April 1, the order was expanded to all 77 counties, though businesses deemed “essential” were allowed to remain open.
The state fully reopened on June 1.
Oklahoma’s COVID-19 hospitalizations reached an all-time high last week, with 1,055 reported on Wednesday. The Oklahoma Hospital Association partnered with state officials to form a new hospital surge plan earlier this month, which is centered around tiers that are activated depending on how many COVID-19 hospitalizations a region has.
The tiers, of which there are four, are based on what percentage of a region’s staffed beds are filled with COVID-19 patients. The first tier signals the lowest percentage range.
Oklahoma City, which is its own region, was the first to enter Tier 3 late last week, meaning that more than 20 percent of its staffed beds were occupied by COVID-19 patients. The surge plan comes with the option of limiting nonemergency surgeries by 50 percent statewide.
While Oklahoma has a statewide surge plan, hospitals have individual surge plans they may trigger on their own.
Dr. Cameron Mantor, OU Health’s acting chief medical officer, said as cases continue to surge, hospitalizations will rise.
“Hospitalizations are definitely increasing. There is no question about that,” Mantor said on Friday.
Frye said though the state suspended elective surgeries to free up bed space in March, officials want to leave that decision up to individual hospitals.
“Some of the hospitals are starting to do that themselves, which is really what we want to happen. We want them to manage it,” he said.
Frye added: “The governor doesn’t want to shut down elective surgeries. He knows there’s consequences to that.”