Twelve more people in Oklahoma have died from COVID-19, bringing the total in the state to 79, according to state health data updated Wednesday morning.
Oklahoma officials have reported 1,524 cases of the disease caused by the novel coronavirus since March 6.
Two of the deaths reported Wednesday were in Tulsa County. Both were men older than 65. One patient who died in Cleveland County was a 36- to 49-year-old man. Four deaths were reported in Oklahoma County, and one was reported in each of Adair, Cleveland, Greer, Kay and Wagoner counties. All were older than 65.
The first COVID-19 death in the state was reported March 19, about three weeks ago. The pace of deaths is in stark contrast to that of influenza: The 79 COVID-19 deaths reported in Oklahoma as of Wednesday is the same as the 79 flu deaths the state reported between the flu season’s start in October and March 28.
Influenza and COVID-19 have some overlap in their symptoms: fever, cough and sometimes body aches and fatigue. Both can lead to pneumonia. But the hallmark symptom for COVID-19 is shortness of breath, said Kelly VanBuskirk, incident commander for the Tulsa Health Department’s COVID-19 response.
Comparing the flu and COVID-19 was popular in the earlier weeks of the pandemic. However, it was not a fair comparison, VanBuskirk said.
“Really, anybody is at risk of developing COVID-19 because nobody in the community has been exposed to it before,” she said.
The flu is seasonal. People have had it before, and people are vaccinated for it. That immunity offers a “layer of protection” that people don’t have for new coronaviruses, she said. A vaccinated person may still contract the flu but experience less severe symptoms than without the vaccination.
Chinese researchers identified COVID-19 in December and have since traced infections back to as early as November. Oklahoma reported its first confirmed infection March 6 after weeks of questions over how and when testing would start.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said in mid-March that “we can’t proceed under that assumption” that COVID-19 is a seasonal virus. The virus is too new to make that type of conclusion.
Based on available data, Fauci told a U.S. House committee that COVID-19 has a mortality rate of 2% to 3%, but “if you count all the cases of minimally symptomatic or asymptomatic infection, that probably brings the mortality rate down to somewhere around 1%, which means it is 10 times more lethal than the seasonal flu.”
There have been 390 cumulative hospitalizations due to COVID-19 in Oklahoma toward the end of a flu season that itself has hospitalized 3,415 Oklahomans. Several dozen new flu hospitalizations have been reported since March 22, contributing to the recent added strain on local health care providers.
Prevention of COVID-19’s spread remains the goal to save lives and reduce the burden on hospitals. Prevention methods include social distancing, home isolation, wearing cloth face coverings and enhancing hygiene practices.
Public health officials started recommending last week that people wear cloth face coverings to help prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus.
The recommendation is not to prevent the wearer from contracting the virus but to help prevent the wearer from unknowingly spreading it. COVID-19 has an incubation period of two days to two weeks, during which time a person may be contagious but not have symptoms.
Social distancing means staying out of group or congregate settings, avoiding mass gatherings and maintaining a distance of at least 6 feet from others. Congregate settings are public places where close contact may occur, such as grocery stores, movie theaters, churches and stadiums.
Video: April 7 coronavirus briefing from Tulsa officials with guidance on masks
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