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Point of View: Getting through coronavirus in Oklahoma together

Jerome Loughridge
Jerome Loughridge

About this time each year, we look to the western skies and start making plans to confront the worst nature can deliver. We know how to pull together as a state in the face of challenge; we do it every spring.

Today, nature has provided us a new opportunity to show our collective strength: COVID-19.

We can slow its spread if we act together. That’s why we join to communicate that unlike a spring twister, there are things Oklahomans can do to help slow its spread.

The CDC recommends everyday preventive measures, including regular hand washing, covering coughs and sneezes, and staying home when you’re sick — actions that can seem mundane but are remarkably effective at mitigating viral transmission. Many of us have learned the term “social distancing” in recent days. Taken together with vigilant personal hygiene, the practice of avoiding close contact — within 6 feet — can be a powerful tool to combat the virus.

While a typical flu rises slowly before dissipating with warm weather, coronavirus invades with a swift, steep wave of infection. If seasonal flu is a hurricane, COVID-19 is a tornado. Our objective is to mitigate the impact of this storm to avoid overwhelming our health system. There is no vaccine or collective immunity from prior infection with COVID-19, so our best line of defense is to lessen our individual risk of transmission.

Oklahoma’s health system has innovated together to confront this threat. Some visitor restriction policies have been enacted to ensure the well-being of health care workers. State and county health departments are working with our hospitals to arrange for drive-through testing clinics, and our testing capacity will grow significantly in the coming weeks.

The State Department of Health has established a hotline, 877-215-8336. If you exhibit symptoms including fever, persistent cough or unexplained shortness of breath, please call your health care provider before visiting to ensure that you receive appropriate care without crowding our limited emergency room space.

Certain populations are more at risk of severe impact, including people with weakened immune systems, the chronically ill and the elderly. To prevent the spread of the virus to our most vulnerable populations, we encourage individuals to avoid visitation to long-term and nursing care facilities. Though the risk of a personal visit is too great, there are still things we can do as friends and neighbors. For example, how about writing a note to someone who might not be able to receive a visit?

We are taking the threat of COVID-19 very seriously, working around the clock and in powerfully innovative ways to care for and protect our communities. We are prepared to help slow the spread of the virus as patients are tested and treated — but our first line of defense is you, the public.

It's a gathering tempest — but we know how Oklahomans confront storms: together.

Loughridge is Oklahoma's secretary of health. He was joined in this article by the heads of the Oklahoma State Medical Association, the Oklahoma Hospital Association, Integris Health, OU Medicine, SSM Health Care, Mercy Hospital Oklahoma, Norman Regional Hospital and Duncan Regional Hospital.