OKLAHOMA CITY — Oklahoma leaders on Tuesday still hadn’t finished developing critical COVID-19 prediction models for planning for patient surges and deciding to deploy additional supplies and resources.
But on Tuesday, a university in another state already finished modeling Oklahoma’s expected outbreak curve. Pandemic modeling tries to show how extensive the infection will likely be, when it will peak and timing of deaths to help local, state and hospital leaders better prepare.
Based on the current trajectory, around 1,100 Oklahomans will die from COVID-19 by early August, said analysts with the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation.
While Oklahoma public schools were closed in mid-March, the projection notes no statewide stay-at-home order, no severe travel restrictions and nonessential businesses remaining open in parts of the state.
The analysis also predicted that the state is just 20 days away from the peak spike in cases on April 21. Analysts said Oklahoma won’t have enough ICU beds to meet demand by April 11.
In all, the analysts predicted an estimated 83,967 Americans will die from the coronavirus.
By Tuesday morning, the number of Oklahoma dead jumped to 23. There were 177 hospitalized and 565 confirmed COVID-19 cases.
Shelley Zumwalt, a spokeswoman for Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt, said he has three teams of experts working on the modeling — the Oklahoma State Health Department, the University of Oklahoma and Oklahoma State University. The teams are meeting with him daily to talk through various estimates and fine-tuning their process to create one merged model.
“The governor is pushing for the model to be completed as soon as possible,” Zumwalt said.
When it is ready, Stitt intends to share it with Oklahomans, Zumwalt said.
“The governor was not content with just one opinion,” she said. “Bringing in multiple voices and experts into the room has sparked robust discussions, and they are working to deliver a model that demonstrates each party’s well-thought-out research.”
House Minority Leader Emily Virgin, D-Norman, said that when time is of the essence and lives are at stake, the governor doesn’t have the luxury of being able to have “a robust discussion.”
“We don’t have the time to be bringing in a lot of people from a lot of different places to have that discussion,” she said. “We’ve got to come up with a model and go with it.”
The importance of having a finished, working model cannot be overstated, Virgin said.
“We have to have the data and model (it) to decide when to deploy all the resources we’re getting and when we’ll need extra hospital beds and those temporary facilities,” she said.
Virgin said the public keeps hearing from Stitt that the modeling is coming soon. Stitt said during a media briefing last week that he'd given epidemiologists until Monday to finish the modeling.
Other states and the federal government, meanwhile, have been able to develop working models already, Virgin said.
“Unfortunately, it seems like we’ve been a little slow in our reaction to everything in this whole pandemic,” Virgin said. “It seems like a wait-and-see approach or a wait-until-we-have-more-positive-cases approach.”
Janelle Stecklein covers the Oklahoma Statehouse for CNHI's newspapers and websites. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.