The coronavirus has hospitalized at least 35 patients in Oklahoma intensive care units as of Wednesday, with 93 more ICU patients’ test results pending, according to government data.
The state’s COVID-19 death toll rose to five on Wednesday after two more patients succumbed to the novel respiratory illness that is without treatment or vaccination.
There were 326 inpatients awaiting coronavirus test results in Oklahoma, while 373 individuals are self-quarantined after being sent home by medical facilities within the past 14 days.
The medical data released in a state report Wednesday are a first look at a broader and more detailed snapshot of what Oklahoma is dealing with beyond just positive or negative test results. Statewide, hospitals and physician clinics now provide these data and other metrics to the state Health Department by noon each day, with 88% reporting compliance Wednesday.
“I think there’s still a lot of questions from people because the nature of this disease presentation is that some people get really, really sick and some people don’t get very sick, which I think can be confusing for people,” said Dr. Bruce Dart, executive director of the Tulsa Health Department. “To see numbers of people in ICUs and quarantine, hopefully it helps really paint the picture of why we’re doing all the things that we’re doing and why our decision-makers are supporting aggressive movement to break the chain of transmission.”
Given the dearth of testing capacity, a key question with no clear answer is how many people sent home or who haven’t received results yet have or had contracted COVID-19 as the outbreak spreads.
Hospitalized patients awaiting test results, and the self-quarantined individuals well outnumber Oklahoma’s 164 positive test totals reported Wednesday, which included 59 hospitalizations and five deaths.
Gov. Kevin Stitt on Tuesday told reporters he thought the number of positive cases was “closer to over 500 right now.” There were 109 positives at that moment, jumping by 50% the next day to 164. The governor added that the positives will climb into the thousands.
Dr. Timothy Young, Ascension St. John chief clinical officer, on Wednesday said that roughly 15% of tests his hospital has been able to perform came back positive. Young emphasized the percentage is preliminary, unsure of how it might turn out in two weeks.
“I think we can expect the number of cases to continue to increase over the next few days, but the important point is we expect that to happen,” Young said. “It doesn’t mean things are out of control; it shouldn’t cause people to get upset about it. It’s just kind of the natural part as this spreads.”
Dr. Jeff Johnson, an emergency medicine physician with Hillcrest Medical Center, said he thinks the only true number on which to judge the respiratory illness’s reach is actual positive test results. He, in part, cited gray areas in state guidelines for who should be tested.
“We have such a high number of negatives in the state, especially locally here in Tulsa, that I don’t put a lot of faith in the PUIs (persons under investigation) or the people at home as a marker,” Johnson said.
Self-quarantine numbers nearly tripled in six days to 492 on Tuesday from 169 on March 19. PUIs almost doubled to 399 from 206. Similarly, positive tests in that span rose by 1.5 times.
Persons in self-quarantine dropped by 119 from Tuesday to Wednesday, or 33%. Hospital PUIs dropped by 73 people as positive tests rose by 58 in the same time frame.
The state’s report also notes that there is an average of 9.7 days of personal protective equipment — or PPE — available in Oklahoma. Statewide, hospitals and clinics have reported a wide range from zero to 148 days of PPE on hand.
In Tulsa and Oklahoma counties, the median PPE available is two or three days.
Johnson said that at Hillcrest Medical Center the phrase to describe its PPE supply is “lean but stable,” with employees exercising caution with such an “important and precious resource.” He said there is an approved process for sterilizing N-95 masks to re-use them on a limited basis.
“We’re counting the numbers of re-use to make sure we don’t go too much,” he said.
Johnson likened the feel inside of the hospital to that of the calm before the storm. He said the administration and staff have time to prep, with Tulsa and Oklahoma not seeing the higher volumes reported on the coasts.
He said he believes media outlets have done well to spread the word to socially distance and, if sick, stay home. The overall numbers now are less than what would be a normal flu season, he said, but the potential for people to become sicker than typical influenza is “very high.”
“We’re prepared for a large influx of severely ill respiratory patients, but as of now we’re not having them,” Johnson said. “We’re definitely getting people who are sick, but I would say that our resources at Hillcrest aren’t overwhelmed, which is good.”
Young said he has walked around St. John Medical Center regularly to check on personnel and found himself to be pleasantly surprised by their attitudes. He said staff appear to be doing well and that he feels OK for now about medical supplies stock.
“The governor ordered a stop to elective surgical procedures, so that helps gives us space and clear things out a little bit,” Young said. “But things seem fine right now as far as workload goes.”