Norman Regional Porter Campus

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Like local case numbers, COVID-19 hospitalizations in Norman are tentatively trending down this week, the latest data shows.

New numbers from Norman Regional Health System Thursday show that from Sept. 17-23, NRHS reported an average of 42.9 COVID patients in its hospital at the end of each day. The number is markedly down from last week’s report of 58.3 patients, and the previous week’s average of 56 patients.

The health system’s ICU numbers are down slightly. From Sept. 17-23, NRHS had an average of 17.6 COVID patients in its ICU at the end of each day, down from 18 patients the week before, records show.

Wednesday’s weekly local case number update showed 443 new COVID-19 cases in Norman over a week, down from 559 new cases the week before and 648 new cases two weeks ago.

While case numbers are still high statewide, Oklahoma’s case reporting appears to have trended down in past weeks as well. In the state’s Sept. 1 report, Oklahoma’s seven-day new case average was at 2,796; now, the average is sitting at just over 1,800 cases.

The late September COVID-19 numbers, while down over the beginning of the month, still tower over case numbers from the summer, when Oklahoma’s COVID cases declined heavily and the delta variant was still new. Three months ago, on June 24, the seven-day average was at just 190 cases.

Despite the current trends, virus variants continue to be a concern, said Dr. Dale Bratzler, the University of Oklahoma’s chief COVID officer.

“If we see another variant that behaves like the delta variant, and comes in and infects a lot of people, and your previous vaccine doesn’t protect you, we could potentially be going through all of this again,” Bratzler said in a livestreamed interview Wednesday.

On Wednesday, Bratzler reported 45 cases of the lamba variant and 15 cases of the mu variant in Oklahoma, both of which he called “variants of concern.”

The Norman hospitalization update came Thursday as the state surpassed 10,000 COVID-19 related deaths across Oklahoma. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report 10,025 total COVID-related deaths in the state during the pandemic.

“When you’re at 10,000 deaths in Oklahoma, that means that one in every 400 Oklahomans has died of COVID-19,” Bratzler said Wednesday. “That’s a rate of death that’s higher than the national average, which currently sits at about one in 500 Americans who have died of COVID-19 … it’s a substantial death toll that I don’t think any of us ever expected that we would see.”

Bratzler said though case and hospitalization numbers in Oklahoma are trending downward, death rates are slightly delayed. The Oklahoma State Department of Health, due to its death investigation and reporting system, still lags behind, and has reported 8,715 deaths as of Thursday.

Dr. Lance Frye, the Oklahoma Commissioner of Health, said in a Thursday statement that the safe, effective vaccinations available to all eligible Oklahomans are key to preventing further deaths and illnesses.

“We are sorry to report that as of today, we have lost over 10,000 Oklahomans to COVID-19,” the statement reads. “This count represents the lives of our friends, neighbors and loved ones, and any number of deaths will always be too many.

“We have the tools in our hands right now to prevent further loss of life. As more transmissible variants, such as the Delta variant, emerge, we urge Oklahomans to remain vigilant about protecting themselves from this deadly virus.”

NRHS is offering COVID-19 testing at three of its locations, and is urging patients not to seek a COVID test at the emergency room. Patients can instead schedule a test at one of NRHS’ three locations at the health system’s website.

To schedule a vaccination appointment, visit vaccinate.oklahoma.gov or a local pharmacy.

Emma Keith is the editor of The Transcript, where she covers Norman Public Schools and the University of Oklahoma. Reach her at ekeith@normantranscript.com or at @emma_ckeith.

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Emma Keith covers the coronavirus pandemic and education for The Norman Transcript, with a focus on Norman Public Schools and The University of Oklahoma. She is a 2019 OU graduate.