OKLAHOMA CITY — Oklahoma hospitals and intensive care units are approaching capacity and activating surge plans as an increasing number of residents are testing positive for COVID-19.

“There is significant concern about the rising case numbers,” said LaWanna Halstead, a vice president with the state’s Hospital Association.

She said the state’s metropolitan areas are hardest hit, in part because of the population density. As of the most recent data available early Friday afternoon, Halstead said metro hospitals had a 6 percent capacity. About 30 percent of patients were being treated for COVID-19.

Officials reported 17 percent of adult ICU beds were available statewide.

State health officials said 604 Oklahomans were currently hospitalized for COVID-19 Friday morning. That’s one of the highest numbers since the pandemic first struck the state in March. Health officials reported seven new deaths, bringing the toll to 445.

When the COVID-19 pandemic began, health officials initially thought the outlying hospitals would have to send patients into the metro, but now “it’s possible that the metro hospitals may have to send them to the outlying hospitals,” Halstead said.

Halstead said hospital beds are staffed at the level the community needs. There are limits on staffing, ventilators and medication. She also said supply chains to obtain personal protective gear are not back to normal, causing problems if hospitals become overwhelmed with COVID cases.

“When you hear leadership say we have all these beds, they’ll full of people already,” she said. “It’s a little bit of an affront to the health care system to say we have plenty of beds so go out and do what you want. Why do you want to walk into a disaster if you can do something about it such as wear masks and stay away from each other?”

On Wednesday, Dr. Lance Frye, the state’s interim health commissioner, said the state’s hospital capacity stood at 5,000 beds.

He said the state would have to have 100,000 cases in 14 days in order to reach capacity. That amounts to about 7,200 cases a day for 14 days, he said.

Frye said the state has shifted from “crisis mode” to “risk management mode,” and he’d spoken with the state Hospital Association. Hospital CEOs continue to assure him that some capacity remains, he said.

Frye said he’s monitoring the percentage of positive COVID-19 tests to hospitalizations on a daily basis.

Texas hospitals are calling Oklahoma hospitals trying to place their sick patients across the Red River, said Dr. George Monks, president of the Oklahoma State Medical Association, in an interview with Oklahoma City television station KOCO.

“I'm very concerned because that capacity that we bragged about just a few months ago, it’s essentially rapidly decreasing,” he said. “And when you look at Oklahoma County and the counties surrounding Oklahoma County, the ICU bed situation is bad. Our ICUs are full in those counties.”

On Friday, Integris Health was at or close to capacity at all of its facilities, said spokeswoman Brooke Cayot.

The health system was caring for 101 COVID-positive patients and another 16 under investigation for the illness.

Integris Baptist Medical Center and the Portland Avenue campus are treating the majority of those patients, followed by the their second largest hospital, Integris Southwest Medical Center, she said.

“Appropriate staffing, resources and bed space are required to care for critically ill patients, including those with COVID-19,” Cayot said. “Due to capacity constraints, we have transferred patients to some of our other facilities, both patients with and without COVID-19. Additionally, we reached out to other health care systems in the metro to coordinate transfers in accordance with the state’s COVID-19 surge plan.”

She said all health systems are working together with the State Department of Health to address the increase in COVID-19 hospitalizations.

OU Medical Center was accepting COVID and non-COVID patients Friday, said April Sandefer, a hospital spokeswoman.

“We are currently at a critical point of capacity and are activating our surge plan,” she said.

Stecklein covers the Oklahoma Statehouse for CNHI's newspapers and websites. Reach her at jstecklein@cnhi.com.

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