One in two deaths 75 or older

Nolan Clay The Oklahoman
Laura Summers/Courtesy

In the two months since the first COVID-19 death in Oklahoma, more than half of those who lost their lives to the virus were 75 or older.

The youngest to die was 22. The two oldest were 100.

Those statistics come from a breakdown of ages at death in COVID-19 confirmed cases in Oklahoma. State health officials released the breakdown to The Oklahoman Tuesday.

The COVID-19 death toll stood at 294 Tuesday. Health officials on Wednesday reported five more deaths, all 65 or older, to bring the total to 299.

Close to 120 of the 294 deaths reported Tuesday were 80 or older. More than 150 were 75 or older.

The statistics underscore the extreme vulnerability of Oklahoma’s oldest citizens, particularly those living in nursing homes, assisted living centers and similar facilities.

The Health Department reported Wednesday that there have been 147 deaths associated with nursing homes and long-term care facilities. At least two of the deaths involved staff workers, according to the weekly epidemiology report released Friday.

The most deaths were associated with the Bartlesville Health and Rehabilitation Community. It had 18, health officials reported. The next most deaths — 16 — were associated with Grove Nursing Center.

The Coweta Manor Nursing Home had 11. Grace Skilled Nursing and Therapy in Norman had 10.

Family visits to nursing homes have been restricted nationwide for more than two months to try to stop the virus spread. Earlier this month, one legislator called for a soft reopening of nursing homes and long-term care facilities.

“If we can provide guidance for businesses opening up again, surely we can find ways for family members to get the opportunity by June 1, 2020, to physically see and talk to their loved ones,” Rep. Lundy Kiger, R-Poteau, said.

The federal government on Monday issued guidelines recommending visitation restrictions remain in place until a nursing home has had no positive cases for four weeks.

Seema Verma, administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, told reporters Monday that state and local officials should use “extreme caution” in making decisions on relaxing restrictions.

Among the factors to be considered is whether a nursing home has adequate staffing, adequate access to testing and adequate access to personal protective equipment.

“We certainly understand … how important visitation is to our residents and their families,” said Steve Buck, president of the trade association Care Providers Oklahoma. “We continue to be appreciative of the patience that has been demonstrated thus far as we’ve worked through COVID-19. But the reality is … the caution and the very moderated approach to reopening is definitely warranted.”

Buck called on help at the state and federal level with the cost of repeated testing of staff at facilities. “We shouldn’t be lulled into sleep and think that a one-and-done test is sufficient. It is going to have to be rigorous and consistent and that’s going to be a very expensive proposition,” he said Wednesday.

Also reflected in the death toll statistics is how much the virus has spared the young. Only five of those who died were under 40; their ages were 22, 28, 32, 35 and 39.

The 22-year-old died April 5. He was identified by family at the time as Israel Sauz, an assistant manager of a QuikTrip in Tulsa. The new father sought medical help three times for his illness before being diagnosed as having COVID-19, according to his family.