Coronavirus in Oklahoma: Death toll, infections rise but more efficient testing on the way
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Oklahoma saw its biggest jump yet in the number of people infected on Wednesday while the number of deaths in the state doubled and the first confirmed infection of COVID-19 was reported at Tinker Air Force Base.
The Oklahoma State Department of Health reported that six people have now died from complications due to being infected by COVID-19, an increase of three from the day before. The Health Department also reported that 164 people have now tested positive for COVID-19, a jump of 56 people from the day before.
The state Health Department said both deaths were men and Oklahoma City Mayor David Holt said on Twitter that one victim was in his early 40s. The Oklahoma State Department of Health said the other was in his 70s.
Statewide, four of the deaths have been men. All but one of the six deaths was over 50 years old.
Oklahoma County has 56 cases, according to the local health department’s update, up from the 41 reported Tuesday by the Oklahoma State Health Department. The county has consistently had the most cases.
The number of people needing medical treatment after becoming infected also rose in the state as 59 people are now hospitalized due to the disease.
A member of Tinker Air Force Base is being treated and evaluated following the first confirmed case of COVID-19 at the base, officials said Wednesday.
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A second state lawmaker, Rep. Jason Lowe, D-Oklahoma City, said he tested positive for the virus, a day after Sen. Paul Rosino, R-Oklahoma City, said he has the disease. Both lawmakers said they were self-isolating and recovering at home.
Private labs and new machines
The state Health Department said Wednesday it has partnered with a private lab to test those deemed high risk: health care workers, first responders, people over 65 and those with compromised immune systems.
The department opened a drive-thru Medical Referral Site in Oklahoma County on Wednesday and will test people with a doctor's referral.
Researchers at the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation are partnering with the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center in an emergency effort to process more COVID-19 tests. A team of OMRF scientists is relocating temporarily to Health Sciences Center, where they will operate a high-speed polymerase chain reaction system that will accelerate testing.
Researchers say that when the system is operational, which they expect it to be so this weekend, it can vastly increase the speed of testing while using significantly fewer chemical reagents, which are in short supply.
"It is a much more efficient instrument than most out there," said OMRF President Dr. Stephen Prescott. "It enables a lot more tests to be done locally than would normally be possible."
State health officials said the virus has now spread into 27 counties, up from 19 on Tuesday when Gov. Kevin Stitt ordered non-essential businesses to shut down in counties where the coronavirus had been detected. The governor ordered elderly and vulnerable Oklahomans to stay indoors until April 30, except for essential travel, such as to pick up groceries and prescriptions or to visit the doctor.
The Oklahoma State Board of Education voted Wednesday to close public schools statewide for the remainder of the school year and to turn to distance learning in an effort to limit the spread of the coronavirus. All Oklahoma high school sports activities for the remainder of the year were also canceled.