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Oklahoma’s COVID-19 death toll climbs; more testing planned

May 8, 2020 GMT
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Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt, center, walks through Life Time Athletic as he tours the facility Friday, May 8, 2020, in Oklahoma City, as the facility reopens to the public for the first time since temporarily closing due to coronavirus concerns. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)
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Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt, center, walks through Life Time Athletic as he tours the facility Friday, May 8, 2020, in Oklahoma City, as the facility reopens to the public for the first time since temporarily closing due to coronavirus concerns. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Oklahoma health officials announced plans on Friday to test 90,000 people for the coronavirus by the end of the month, roughly the same number of tests that have been administered since the start of the outbreak in March.

State Health Commissioner Gary Cox announced a partnership with Blue Cross Blue Shield of Oklahoma and a nonprofit health group to deploy four mobile testing vans to underserved areas to provide free COVID-19 tests to anyone, even if they’re not exhibiting symptoms.

The vans were being deployed Friday and Saturday to locations on the south side of Oklahoma City.

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“We want everyone to get tested, regardless of whether or not they are currently showing symptoms, so we can improve early detection of new clusters and hot spots as they arise and aggressively mitigate spread,” Cox said.

The Health Department also released statistics that show a downward trajectory of positive tests as a percentage of total tests within a 14-day period, one of the triggers that would allow more businesses to reopen next Friday.

LATEST COVID-19 NUMBERS

Oklahoma health officials reported nearly 100 new coronavirus cases and six more deaths on Friday.

The six new reported deaths bring the state’s death toll to 266, while the number of confirmed cases in Oklahoma has now topped 4,400. The number of actual infections is thought to be far higher because many people haven’t been tested and studies suggest people can have the disease without showing symptoms.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.

HOUSES OF WORSHIP

Another prosecutor is urging Norman Mayor Breea Clark to lift an order in Oklahoma’s third-largest city that prevents large gatherings inside places of worship. U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Oklahoma Tim Downing Friday said places of worship in Norman should be allowed to meet this Sunday, in line with Gov. Kevin Stitt’s order allowing churches to open last week if they follow sanitizing and social distancing guidelines. Attorney General Mike Hunter also warned Clark to allow churches to open.

Clark said in a statement late Thursday that the city is keeping its policy in place based on recommendations from public health experts that prohibit mass gatherings, “regardless if they are religious or secular.” Norman’s plan calls for houses of worship to possibly reopen next week.

A lawsuit filed by several Norman salon owners against Clark is pending in federal court, although a state district judge already ruled the salons could reopen.

GOVERNOR’S VISITS

Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt planned visits to an Oklahoma City fitness center and a department store, both of which were allowed to open last week under the governor’s reopening plan.

If hospital rates remain at a “manageable level” for the next week, Stitt’s plan calls for organized sports activities, funerals and weddings, and children’s nursery operations at houses of worship to resume next Friday. Bars will also be allowed to reopen with diminished standing-room occupancy.

CHEROKEE NATION

The Cherokee Nation, which employs about 11,000 people, announced the phased reopening of its government offices, with employees working staggered shifts starting June 1. Most tribal employees have been working from home or have been on administrative leave since the week of March 16.

Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. said employees aged 65 and older or with high-risk health conditions will continue to remain on administrative leave or be allowed to work from home.