Oklahoma reached a grim milestone Tuesday as it surpassed 500 coronavirus deaths, with 57 of those reported in the past week.
As of Tuesday, 509 Oklahomans had died after becoming infected with the new coronavirus, according to state health data. Since July 1, the state reported 122 Oklahomans had died of the disease. Of those who died, 55 became ill or had tested positive this month, data analyzed by The Frontier shows.
Last week the state saw a 39 percent increase in reported deaths compared to the week before.
While the majority of deaths were from those older than 65, the head of the University of Oklahoma’s coronavirus response, Dr. Dale Bratzler, said he was worried about a growing number of younger Oklahomans dying from the virus.
“I think what concerns me even more (than increasing new cases) is that in the past seven days, 39 deaths have been reported,” Bratzler said Friday. “While the majority of them are in that age group of 65 and older, there have been a number of deaths in younger people this past week.”
As of Tuesday, about 79 percent of deaths were in the 65 and older age group. Sixteen deaths — or about 3 percent — were Oklahomans between the ages 36 to 49. But since July 20, four people in that age group have died.
The Oklahoma State Department of Health did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday afternoon.
The virus’ death toll in the U.S. topped 150,000 Tuesday.
There have been fatalities in towns and cities across Oklahoma, from Stillwater, to the panhandle, to the eastern most parts of the state, but the majority of the lives lost were from Tulsa and Oklahoma counties.
As of Friday, the average age of Oklahomans who died was 75, state health data shows. The youngest person was 13, and the oldest was more than 100. About 53 percent of the deceased were men.
Nearly 79 percent of those who died after becoming infected had at least one chronic health condition, according to a recent weekly report from the state.
Tulsa County, which leads the state in the number of coronavirus deaths with 93, reported seven deaths over the past week. Meanwhile, Oklahoma County, with 92 deaths, reported 13 in the past week.
Calculating a case fatality rate is tricky, as the total number of coronavirus cases isn’t known. Many people, experts say, are asymptomatic and may never know they were infected with the virus.
Oklahoma has hit record numbers of new daily cases over the past several days. The state recorded its highest number of new cases on Monday with 1,401. Though the state reported 1,714 new cases on July 21, those included a backlog of results.
On Tuesday, there were 1,089 new cases.
Several cities, including Tulsa, Norman and Oklahoma City, have enacted mask mandates in the last couple of weeks, but Bratzler on Friday said it was too early to know whether those were yet to have an effect on new cases, though he was optimistic.
Slowing the rate of infection could help ease the burden on the hospital system and prevent it from becoming overrun, health experts and hospital officials have said. Coronavirus hospitalizations in Oklahoma reached a high on July 15 with 638 patients. As of Monday there were 596.
Bratzler said in an interview with The Frontier on Tuesday that as people remain ill in intensive care units because of the disease — 207 patients as of Monday — there would likely be more coronavirus deaths in the coming weeks.
“Even though I think we as a health community have gotten much better at taking care of patients when they are sick with COVID-19, you don’t see 200 people in the hospital (ICU) and not more deaths,” he said.
As of Friday, Oklahoma ranked No. 40 in the U.S. for deaths per 100,000 people, according to data analyzed by the health department.