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Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt started his news conference Thursday with a strong reassurance about the state’s response to COVID-19 (novel coronavirus).

So far in Oklahoma, five cases have tested negative and two are still in testing at the Centers for Disease Control. At the news conference, only one pending test was cited but later in the afternoon, the Oklahoma State Department of Health confirmed that there are now two.

“There are no known cases of COVID-19 in Oklahoma,” said Stitt. “The infection risk remains low at this time and we are prepared to remain vigilant in our preparedness for this situation.”

COVID-19
Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt speaks at a news conference Thursday, March 3, 2020 to assure the public that the state is monitoring for COVID-19 and is prepared to respond if there is an outbreak. (Brett Dickerson/Okla City Free Press)

Stitt continued, “The state is well-positioned to monitor the developing situation, deploy assets as needed and protect the public health and safety of Oklahomans.”

He said that just that morning he and his staff had gone through drills with different scenarios to make sure that they are prepared for an outbreak.

“The degree of risk can change quickly,” said Stitt, “In the event the situation worsens, Oklahoma has a statewide plan in place that is operational.”

Department of Health

Stitt was especially confident about the Oklahoma State Department of Health which houses the only Public Health Lab in the state.

With that, he brought Oklahoma Commissioner of Health Gary Cox to the podium to explain efforts being taken to prevent an outbreak of COVID-19 in Oklahoma.

Cox went through information about cases being tested and the Department of Health’s efforts.

COVID-19
Gary Cox, Oklahoma’s health commissioner explains the Department of Health’s preparations to meet the threat of COVID-19. State Epidemiologist Laurence Burnsed is seen at left. (Brett Dickerson, Okla City Free Press)

He said that so far there have been five cases tested by the national Centers for Disease Control and all have come back negative.

He and the state epidemiologist Laurence Burnsed, MPH, said that there is only one case still being tested by the CDC. But, later in the afternoon, the OSDH confirmed that there are two cases being tested.

Burnsed told Free Press after the news conference that they expect the results back “any day now.”

Potential of death

Free Press asked Cox to confirm numbers that have been floated that the death rate for common forms of the flu are around 0.01% but COVID-19 so far has had a death rate over 2.0% which would put the disease up around what was the death rate for the Spanish flu in 1918-1919.

He confirmed that the current death rate of COVID-19 is “around 2.5 to 3.5%” but added that those death rates were in countries that were caught without preparation.

He added that around 80% of the COVID-19 cases have been mild enough to survive without risk of death.

Lab testing

Cox said that the state has received some test kits from the CDC.

The Public Health Lab has three machines that can run the tests “three shifts per day over 24 hours” if necessary Cox said.

Those three machines ran “about 100 tests per day during the H1N1 outbreak,” said Cox. “And so, if we ran three shifts, that could produce about 300 tests per day.”

His department is in the process of validating the tests in their own lab to make sure they work.

Once the strict validation process is complete, the turnaround for the state PHL to have results would be around 24 – 72 hours depending on the volume of cases being tested.

Symptoms and travel history

The Department of Health has been consulting with doctors and hospitals across the state to determine if patients are showing symptoms and have a travel history that may make them more likely to be infected.

Burnsed and Cox both emphasized that if traveling from China, Iran, South Korea, or Italy then upon return those people should stay at home and not go into public places for at least 14 days to see if any symptoms of the virus develop.

Travel from Japan is on the next level down in concern, but officials encourage those returning from there to isolate themselves as well.

A link from the CDC with updated guidance for travelers is at https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/travelers/index.html

Prevention

There is no vaccine available yet to combat COVID-19. Information from the state health department is focused on prevention.

They recommend:

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Stay home when you are sick.
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.

Response planned

Cox and the governor emphasized that they are ready if there is a confirmed case to activate the Incident Command System and will work with a broad spectrum of state agencies and national partners “to treat and minimize further spread.”


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