The state remains on track to begin the next phase of business reopenings later this week even as hospitalization numbers spiked Wednesday and health officials worked to resolve testing accessibility problems.
The state Department of Health reported a nearly 15 percent increase in the number of Oklahomans hospitalized with COVID-19. Statewide, 218 Oklahomans were hospitalized with the deadly virus, up from 190 the day prior.
There also were nearly 120 confirmed positive new cases, but no new deaths in the past 24 hours.
Shelley Zumwalt, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Health, said as of midday Wednesday testing is once again available to any Oklahoman who wants it.
The ongoing testing of 42,000 nursing home patients and staff as well as allowing public COVID-19 testing to asymptomatic Oklahomans overwhelmed the capacity of the state laboratories. It forced the state to temporarily scale back its mobile drive-through sites.
Because of the shelf life for all COVID-19 specimens, county health departments were asked only to test symptomatic people or those who came in contact with the disease to give the state time to resolve the bottleneck. The state shipped some specimens to private labs to alleviate the backlog and processed others at the state locations.
Oklahoma had plenty of test kits and the reagent necessary to process them, but not enough testing machines to handle the spike.
Zumwalt said the state laboratories were caught up Wednesday, but if they become overwhelmed again in the future, they plan to send samples to private labs.
News of the test glitches and hospitalization spike come as Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt presses forward with the second phase of his reopening plan.
Phase 2 allows nonessential travel to resume, along with organized sports activities. Funerals and weddings can be held with more than 10 people. Children and nursery areas in places of worship can reopen. Bars can open as long as there is diminished standing-room occupancy.
Stitt spokesman Charlie Hannema said state health officials have communicated with all counties that they are not to turn anyone away from testing.
He said the percentage of hospitals reporting went up the past two days.
“Hospitalizations are still well below where we were when we started Phase 1,” he said. “To characterize having 218 people hospitalized in a state of nearly 4 million Oklahomans that has more than 20 times the number of hospital beds available for COVID patients as any sort of spike is sensational and unnecessarily alarmist.”
Gary Cox, the state’s commissioner of health, said his agency is in the midst of expanding its contact tracing efforts. That will ensure Oklahoma can continue its significant progress to minimize the presence of COVID-19, he said.
“As commissioner, our agency’s top priority is to build and maintain a trusted partnership with the public so that, together, we can continue to conquer this novel virus through proper quarantine efforts, robust testing and personal responsibility,” he said.