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By KEN MILLER, with the Associated Press
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — The head of coronavirus response at the University of Oklahoma Medical Center said Friday that an increase in the number of younger Oklahoma residents dying as a result of the virus has become a worry.
Although most of the 484 deaths reported in the state due to COVID-19 remain in the 65 and older age group with nearly 80%, an increase in deaths among those 36-49 years old shows it can kill younger people as well and is more worrisome than an increase of nearly 5,000 in reported cases in the state during the past week, Dr. Dale Bratzler said.
“What concerns me even more (than the increase in cases) is that in the past seven days 39 deaths have been reported, and while the majority of them are that age group of 65 and older, there have been a number of deaths in younger people this past week … in their mid-40s. So this virus can cause death in younger age group people,” Bratzler said.
The Oklahoma State Department of Health has reported Friday that 3.3%, about 16, of the total 484 deaths due to COVID-19 were 36-49, but four of the 39 deaths in the past week, 9.75%, are in that age group.
A health department spokesperson did not immediately respond to messages for comment.
The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Oklahoma has spiked since the state began reopening in late April, rising by more than 25,000 and including Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt among the positive cases to more than 29,000 on Friday.
Bratzler also supported the wearing of masks, which Stitt has resisted mandating statewide although some cities have adopted mask requirements.
“No mask is perfect, but dramatically reduces the risk of getting the disease and dying from the disease,” Bratzler said.
The Oklahoma State Department of Health said Friday that it will expand its coronavirus contact tracing by texting people who have had close contact with people infected with the virus.
“Contact tracing is an integral component of fighting COVID-19 by breaking the chain of transmission, and we are pleased to find ways to increase efficiency as we continuously develop robust contact tracing efforts across Oklahoma,” Deputy Commissioner of Community Health Services Keith Reed said in a statement.
The department said messages will include only the recipient’s initials, allow the person to fill out a contact tracing interview and receive quarantine-related messages. Text recipients have the option of being contacted with a phone call.
The Oklahoma State Department of Health on Friday reported 29,116 confirmed coronavirus cases and 484 deaths due to COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, an increase from 28,802 reported cases and 477 deaths reported Thursday.
The actual number of positive cases is likely much higher since many people have not been tested and some who get infected don’t show symptoms.
The health department reported 23,277 people have recovered from the virus and 628 people are currently hospitalized either with the virus or under investigation for infection.
For most people, the COVID-19 virus causes mild or moderate symptoms that clear up within weeks. But for others, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, the virus can cause severe illness, including pneumonia, and be fatal.