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Health Officials Urge Cautions On Gatherings After Significant Increase Of COVID-19 Related Hospitalizations

TULSA, OK – [October 30, 2020] – The Tulsa Health Department continues to see a notable upward trend in Tulsa area COVID-19 hospitalizations. With more than 200 patients hospitalized with COVID-19 on any given day since October 16th, Tulsa area health care systems have joined together to warn of a critical tipping point if behaviors do not change. 

Public health has been in continued communication with community agencies, emergency management, stakeholders and the public with transparency in data findings. After recent conversations with Tulsa County health care systems, initial investigations on cases and hospitalizations have identified a common source of transmission linked to indoor gatherings, where small and large groups of people congregated in close contact for prolonged periods of time.  

“I have concerns about groups of people gathering indoors for prolonged lengths of time,” said THD Executive Director, Dr. Bruce Dart.  “We are losing the battle against COVID in Oklahoma, in both rural and metropolitan areas. As cases continue to rise, increases in hospitalizations and deaths always follow this type of surge.” said Dr. Dart.

THD encourages Tulsa County residents and visitors to continue to follow public health guidance to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in our community when attending gatherings of any size. Avoid gathering in groups of more than 10 people, because it is difficult to maintain social distancing in larger groups. Everyone is advised to practice personal responsibility at gatherings by wearing a cloth face covering and practice social distancing by remaining 6 feet away from other people who live outside the home. Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds especially after you have been in a public place, or after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing. If soap and water are not readily available, use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol. Further guidance is available from the CDC.

“Since September 1st, OSU Medical Center has dedicated over 25% of medical surgical, progressive care and ICU staffed inpatient beds to COVID patients. Because of recent surges, last week, OSUMC increased COVID inpatient capacity to over 30% of total staffed inpatient capacity as described previously. OSUMC continues to be committed to meet the needs of our fellow Oklahomans,” said OSUMC Interim Administrator Lynn Sund.

“The confluence of the cold and flu season with the pandemic could have a profound impact on the health care system in Oklahoma. We know we will have COVID patients in the health care system through the entire flu season, but whether there is a surge depends on how well we as a community work together to follow proven preventive steps. These include: masking, receiving an annual flu vaccination, practicing safe social distancing, following proper hand washing etiquette and staying home when experiencing symptoms associated with COVID-19 and/or the flu. These are all best practice steps we can all take to keep ourselves and our loved ones healthy,” said Hillcrest CEO Kevin Gross.

“While we remain prepared to care for our patients, the rising levels of COVID-19 cases across our state are very concerning. As a community, we must continue to take this crisis seriously and do what we can to slow the spread. We understand the community may be experiencing ‘pandemic fatigue,’ but as we head into the winter months we need everyone to stay vigilant. Please continue to wash your hands, watch your distance, wear masks while in public, and get your flu shot. As temperatures drop and the holidays approach, remember that indoor gatherings create a much greater risk for COVID-19 transmission.  Everyone in our community plays a crucial role in helping us all stay healthy and safe. Only through everyone’s cooperation can we curb the high number of cases we are experiencing and protect our neighbors and front-line workers.  We are all in this together,” said Ascension St. John CEO and Oklahoma Ministry Market Executive Jeffrey D. Nowlin, FACHE.

“Last week Saint Francis Health hit our peak of 129 patients at one time. In March, April and May, when people took to heart the simple recommendations to flatten the curve our highest census number was 55. We are more than double that now. Our ask is the same as it was then, it’s still a simple request…wear a mask, wash your hands and watch your distance. What we are seeing now isn’t sustainable. We’re headed in the wrong direction and the only way to course correct is if we start working together—again,” said Saint Francis Health System CEO Jake Henry Jr.

The risk of COVID-19 spreading at events and gatherings increases as follows:

Lowest risk: Virtual-only activities, events, and gatherings.
More risk: Smaller outdoor and in-person gatherings in which individuals from different households remain spaced at least 6 feet apart, wear masks, do not share objects, and come from the same local area (e.g., community, town, city or county).
Higher risk: Medium-sized in-person gatherings that are adapted to allow individuals to remain spaced at least 6 feet apart and with attendees coming from outside the local area.
Highest risk: Large in-person gatherings where it is difficult for individuals to remain spaced at least 6 feet apart and attendees travel from outside the local area.

According to the CDC, the virus that causes COVID-19 is spreading very easily and sustainably between people. COVID-19 is thought to be mostly spread by respiratory droplets released when people talk, cough or sneeze. It is thought that the virus may also spread to hands from a contaminated surface and then to the nose, mouth or eye, causing infection. Some people without symptoms may be able to spread the virus. Anyone who is sick with COVID-19 or has symptoms of COVID-19 should stay home and contact their health care provider.

If hosting a gathering, ensure that hand sanitizer, tissues, trash baskets, disposable facemasks and cleaners and disinfectants are available to guests. Clean frequently touched surfaces and objects with detergent and water prior to disinfection, especially surfaces that are visibly dirty. It’s important to clean and disinfect these frequently touched services regularly throughout the day. Remind guests that if they are feeling under the weather to stay home. 

“The warning signs are everywhere, please don’t pretend this isn’t real; be safe, be smart,” said Dr. Dart.  “We are entering a new and scary phase of COVID and we have to unite against this virus. The bottom line is that the more people an infected individual interacts with and the longer that interaction lasts, the greater the risk for spreading COVID-19 becomes.”

If you participated in higher risk activities or think that you may have been exposed during your celebration, take extra precautions (in addition the ones listed above) for 14 days after the event to protect others:
•    Stay home as much as possible.
•    Avoid being around people at increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19.
•    Consider getting tested for COVID-19 5-7 days following the event or potential exposure.

Getting a flu vaccine is also an essential part of protecting your health and your family’s health this season as well as lessening the strain on health care systems.

The Tulsa Health Department continues to offer specimen collection for COVID-19 testing by appointment only. Call 918-582-9355 to speak to a public health professional. For more information, please visit

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