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11.8.20- The Oklahoman

Another record-setting day of new COVID-19 infections prompted state health officials and Gov. Kevin Stitt to plead for Oklahomans to take precautions to slow the spread of the virus.

The Oklahoma State Department of Health reported 4,741 new infections on Saturday, shattering the previous daily record of 2,101 that was set on Thursday, and moving Oklahoma’s 7-day average to near 2,000 new cases. There have been 136,492 cases of COVID-19 diagnosed in Oklahoma since the pandemic began.

Stitt has refused to implement a statewide mask mandate or any other significant measure to mitigate spread of the virus, while continuing to ask Oklahomans to follow recommended hygiene and distancing protocols.

In a release from the state Health Department, officials said Saturday’s numbers included a backlog of numbers that were reported due to a switch in reporting systems at several labs across the state, but still they had reason to believe the normal case count would have continued on an upward trajectory regardless.

State health officials also reported nine new deaths in the state, pushing the death count to 1,438.

In a statement Saturday afternoon, Stitt asked Oklahomans to continue to do their part to slow the spread of the coronavirus by washing their hands frequently, staying socially distant and wearing a mask.

“It is clear that this virus continues to spread through rural and urban communities across Oklahoma and the United States,” Stitt said. “Throughout the history of our state, Oklahomans have taken pride in caring for our neighbors during times of trouble. Now, more than ever, I am asking each Oklahoman to do the right thing and protect their families, neighbors and those who are most vulnerable.”

Stitt, who was the first governor in the nation to test positive for the coronavirus in July, is frequently seen in public without a mask.

Even before the staggering number of cases reported on Saturday, Oklahoma was at or near all-time highs in the rates of positive COVID-19 cases and deaths, the number of active cases, and the number of hospitalizations and patients in intensive care related to the virus.

This recent spike comes as hospitals are reporting intensive care unit beds are running at or near capacity in the Oklahoma City metro region. On Wednesday the state announced that area hospitals had reached Tier 3 of the state’s hospital surge plan.

Tier 3 was triggered Monday when metro hospitals reported that 20.1% of hospitalized patients were COVID-19 patients.

In Tier 3 of the surge plan, hospitals can cancel surgeries and transfer patients to post-acute care facilities to free up beds. The surge plan also gives Stitt options to improve hospital capacity through an executive order limiting elective procedures.

So far, none of the local hospitals had triggered their own individual Tier 3 surge plan as they were still able to find ICU beds for patients by transferring patients to other hospitals within the metro area.

A spokesman for Stitt said Wednesday the governor did not plan to sign an executive order limiting elective procedures. Nor did he plan to request the Oklahoma Legislature implement the Catastrophic Health Emergency Powers Act, which would give him additional powers for 30 days.

State Commissioner of Health Dr. Lance Frye echoed Stitt’s comments and pleaded for Oklahomans to take COVID-19 precautions.

“We have the power to slow the spread, but we all must do our part,” Frye said. “The number today adds to a continued upward trend that we are monitoring closely. Additional actions will be taken should this trend continue.

“I ask that all Oklahomans stay vigilant in protecting themselves and their loved ones from this highly contagious virus and we all need to do our part to slow the spread now.”