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By Nate Morris and Laura Bellis
Cases of COVID-19 are increasing rapidly in Oklahoma as the Delta variant continues to spread among unvaccinated residents. In the past month, average daily new cases of the virus have skyrocketed more than 800%.
Across the state, only 40% of Oklahomans are fully vaccinated. According to public health experts, nearly 99% of those hospitalized or dying from the virus in the state are unvaccinated.
Efforts to increase vaccinations in the state continue, as St. John’s Ascension health group became the latest company to announce that all employees are required to be vaccinated. The announcement comes as President Biden publicly weighs vaccination requirements for all federal employees nationwide.
On Tuesday, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) announced updated guidance for wearing masks. The new guidance encourages everyone, regardless of vaccination status, to wear masks in areas of high-spread and in K-12 education settings. Previously, the CDC had relaxed guidance for vaccinated individuals.
Oklahoma Democrats this week officially requested Governor Stitt issue a new State of Emergency as cases rise. Stitt, who signed legislation in May barring school boards from implementing mask requirements in schools unless he authorized a state of emergency, refused.
While Governor Stitt continues to label the fight against rising cases a matter of “personal responsibility”, the White House is encouraging vaccinations and other precautions.
White House Senior Advisor speaks with The Black Wall Street Times to encourage vaccinations
In an interview with The Black Wall Street Times, Senior White House Policy Advisor for COVID, Dr. Cameron Webb, urges leaders to “look to the science”.
“Every bit of guidance says that students 12 and under should be masked,” Webb said in reference to schools reopening in the Fall. “I hope and trust that all localities will look back to ‘what’s the current understanding of the science?’.”
“The CDC guidance is not the ceiling on what could be implemented,” Webb said in a question about the ability of local governments to take additional measures to protect public health.
Webb said he “can’t imagine anyone on the U.S. Government side would begrudge a locality” for doing more.
Webb also voiced his concerns for the people of Oklahoma as the Delta variant continues its rapid spread throughout the nation.
“The states with the lowest vaccination rates are making up 40% of new cases,” Webb said in the interview. “I don’t want the same thing to happen in Oklahoma.”
Speaking on behalf of the Biden administration, Dr. Webb was also quick to warn against misinformation around the vaccine. He cautioned that simply because an individual had COVID earlier on in the pandemic does not mean they are immune to the new variant.
“We know that the vaccine portends a lot of protection [against the virus],” Webb said. He encouraged Oklahomans still on the fence about receiving the vaccine to “talk to your trusted healthcare provider. Have a dialogue and ask questions.”
“It’s important for folx to know the information about vaccines based in science and fact,” he said.
The administration has also set up a website, wecandothis.hhs.gov, to help individuals combat misinformation online.
A dire situation continues to unfold as vaccinations lag
Oklahoma, for its part, is facing another wave of infections, hospitalizations and deaths should vaccination rates continue to lag.
As far-right individuals and groups continue to advocate against vaccinations and safety measures ahead of school re-opening, pediatric cases in the state are at nearly all-time highs.
The current variant of the virus spreads at nearly twice the rate of the original variant from last Spring. Officials are seeing increased numbers of severe hospitalizations and deaths from younger adults as the Delta strain tears through unvaccinated populations.
All vaccines available in the US have proven nearly 100% effective against severe illness or death from COVID-19. Individuals still wishing to receive their vaccination can find and book an appointment at www.vaccines.gov/search.