breaking: Putnam City Schools announces 2020 Athletic Hall of Fame classdeveloping: OKC residents call for police change during hours-long hearingThe Latest: Biden and Trump win Indiana's primary

NewsOK: Oklahoma City News, Sports, Weather & Entertainment

Oklahoma County prepares for coronavirus

Personal responsibility is the key message from Oklahoma County officials when it comes to preventing the spread of COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the latest strain of the coronavirus.

“What we have been preaching right now is that what you do to prevent the flu, do now,” said Blaine Bolding, administrator for emergency preparedness and response for the Oklahoma City-County Health Department. “If someone is sick, don’t be around them. Wash your hands.”

The first confirmed case of coronavirus in Oklahoma was announced Friday afternoon by state officials in Tulsa.

The county health department is taking the lead on preparedness efforts and has been working with the state, as well as local schools, governments and businesses, to prepare for potential cases in the area.

Bolding said the department is in phase one of its emergency preparedness plan, which includes educational messaging and monitoring travelers arriving in the state.

Oklahoma County is not at a high risk level currently, he said, but the department will stay in contact with a traveler for two weeks after they've arrived back in the state from an area of concern.

Local businesses have also been encouraged to create preparedness plans that might include reducing staff meetings, promoting working from home and being flexible with leave time for employees that may feel the need to come to work if sick if they don’t have much paid time off.

As cases spread in Oklahoma, Bolding said the department might begin to recommend that certain social gatherings end and would work with schools on plans for possible closures.

“We don’t go around telling people what to do as much as just saying ‘Here is something to think about,’” Bolding said.

David Barnes, emergency management director for Oklahoma County, said the county will assist the health department with “whatever they may need.”

County officials and department heads receive continued updates from Barnes on the status of the spreading virus, and a meeting was held between health care providers, county officials and county jail staff earlier this week.

Oklahoma County Commissioner Carrie Blumert said sharing information on correct procedures is vital with the jail, where, she said, the virus could “spread like wildfire” if a carrier was booked in.

“I wanted to make sure that our health care provider was communicating with jail staff and our county health care department on if we do have someone showing symptoms, what is our protocol?” Blumert said.

A question on recent travel was added to the initial inmate screening, detainees have been told to report any symptoms and cells with their own ventilation systems have been made available to isolate anyone with symptoms, said Oklahoma County Sheriff's Office spokesperson Mark Myers.

“I think we’ve done a really good job,” Blumert said. “But the thing with coronavirus, there is no vaccine yet, and we don’t all have test kits.”

More than $10 billion in funding to states to combat the virus was recently approved by Congress, so Blumert said she expects that will help state and local efforts soon.

The state Department of Health expected a call center dedicated to dealing with coronavirus to be up and running by the end of this week.

At the news conference on Friday in Tulsa, officials announced they can now test for the virus in-state, so wait times should lower. More information is available at www.coronavirus.health.ok.gov.

“It’s very important for Oklahomans to know that we are prepared and we have a plan,” Gov. Kevin Stitt said Thursday at a news conference. “If this does flare up and we see cases grow or even one case in Oklahoma, then we will start working towards making sure the public is safe.”

Barnes said battling panic and misinformation from the public has also been a large part of his job. The spread of the virus will be limited by those who are intentional about basic hygiene practices, he said.

“The reality from the statistics from the best information we have available … show that (the flu) is actually a much bigger threat, and the death toll is much higher with the flu,” Barnes said. “Those at greatest risk are people with illnesses already.

“Personal responsibility is the bottom line issue,” he added. “We have a responsibility to take care of ourselves and our families and others. So take the precautions.”

Kayla Branch

Kayla Branch covers county government and poverty for The Oklahoman. Branch is a native Oklahoman and graduate of the University of Oklahoma. She joined The Oklahoman staff in April 2019. Read more ›

Comments