Amid uptick in cases, Oklahoma sees high hospital admission rate for COVID-19 patients
Oklahoma is seeing a high rate of hospital admissions for COVID-19 patients amid rising case numbers in the state, according to an expert.
Across the state, nearly 28% of people who have had a positive COVID-19 test in the last two weeks were admitted to hospitals, said Dr. David Kendrick, founder and CEO of MyHealth Access Network, a statewide health information exchange.
“That's a really high admission rate,” Kendrick said Tuesday at a Healthier Oklahoma Coalition news conference, adding that the number of hospital admissions statewide is still low despite the high rate.
New COVID-19 cases have risen significantly in the last month. As of Tuesday, there were 2,201 active cases in the state, more than double the number from the beginning of June, according to the Oklahoma Health Department.
Oklahoma's COVID-19 positivity rate also has steadily risen since June, up to about 9% now, Kendrick said, citing MyHealth data. In Tulsa, the rate is 8.7%, and it’s lower in Oklahoma City, at 3.7%, he said.
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“We have a really low rate of testing,” he said. “It just is the case that a high percentage of those tests are coming back positive, such that we're back to levels we've not seen since mid-February, as we were coming off that major peak we had in the January timeframe.”
The low rate of testing and high positivity rates indicates that people aren’t seeking out COVID-19 tests until they’re experiencing symptoms, Kendrick said.
Health officials have said the uptick in the state’s cases likely is being driven by the more-transmissible delta variant of COVID-19, which is also associated with a higher likelihood of hospitalization for those who contract it, according to USA TODAY.
The northeast part of the state is feeling the brunt of the uptick. Dr. Sam Ratermann works as a family medicine physician with Integris Grove Hospital in Grove, where he suspects the delta variant is behind increased hospitalizations there.
Patients are coming in younger and sicker than in months past, said Ratermann, who is also president of the Oklahoma Academy of Family Physicians. Some patients have had COVID-19 before, and about a quarter of COVID-19 inpatients at the hospital have been vaccinated, he said.
“Those that have been vaccinated seem to be getting better a little bit quicker, but the overall symptoms and case trajectory of all of our COVID patients are a lot different than what we saw back in February,” Ratermann said.
Ratermann said patients seem to be less frequently experiencing the loss of taste or smell that were telltale COVID-19 symptoms early on. Instead, they’re first noticing symptoms like sore throat or headache, so the coronavirus may not immediately come to mind for them, which could explain less testing being sought.
“The delta variant tends to be a little bit more aggressive, so you get some symptoms that are not too bad and then all of a sudden, it hits you really, really fast,” he said. “I think those three indicators, to me, are what's been keeping the testing numbers low, while we're also seeing them come to the hospital quite a bit sicker.”
Ratermann said he's working to encourage more northeast Oklahoma residents to get vaccinated. In Delaware County, where he works, vaccination rates lag significantly behind the state's average.
He also urged anyone who feels ill to seek out a test early.
"This is July — we just don't tend to see a whole lot of summer colds in younger healthy people. If you have that sore throat, the muscle aches, the headache, please get tested. We need to know these numbers," he said.
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To find a vaccine appointment near you, go to the state's vaccination scheduling portal at vaccinate.oklahoma.gov, or go to vaxokc.com for appointments in the Oklahoma City area. More opportunities to get a COVID-19 shot can be found at vaccines.gov.