It’s back. Which is not to say that it ever truly went away.
Covid-19, the virus that first upended lives globally in 2020, is on the upswing in the United States and new variants are starting to make inroads into Oklahoma, a trend that the Wah-Zha-Zhe Health Clinic is monitoring closely.
“We are beginning to see the uptick of coronavirus infections in the local clinical setting as has been experienced nationally,” WZZHC Chief Medical Officer Dr. Tony Little said in an email on Aug. 30. “Covid-19 cases are on the rise now and are likely to surge even more during the winter months.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and state health departments, the heaviest loads of cases are trending upwards on the east and west coasts of the United States, mirroring the historical spread of the disease that has killed nearly 1.4 million Americans and almost 18,000 of the 1.3 million Oklahomans who have had it.
The disease caused a distinct spike in age-adjusted death rates in Oklahoma; in 2019, about 880 Oklahomans per 100,000 died – which was about average over the years – but in 2021 that number jumped 27 percent to 1,121 per 100,000, making Covid the third leading cause of death behind heart disease and cancer, according to the CDC. In 2022, the age adjusted death rate dropped to 1,027 per 100,000 as the viral infections waned.
Oklahoma stopped reporting test positivity results to the CDC in September 2022 and most other key data in May of this year, so accurate up-to-date numbers are unavailable except for Covid hospitalizations and deaths, the latter of which numbered 268 in the state in the past month, according to the Coronavirus Information Center at Johns Hopkins University.
More than 90 percent of Osage County residents have failed to get the bivalent booster that came out in the fall of 2022 and targeted two strains of the virus, the Omicron variant and the original virus. Just 37 percent of Osage County residents received the two-shot primary vaccine that became available in late 2020.
For now, Dr. Little said that most people can wait to get the updated booster that will target new variants.
“This should happen sometime late September or early October,” Little said. “Given the short duration of the vaccines’ effectiveness, it makes sense to time the next administration of the vaccine so that it will last into the winter months.”
But for some, it might make sense to get vaccinated now.
“It’s not unreasonable for people older than 65 or others that are considered immunocompromised that have a high-exposure lifestyle to consider taking the current vaccine and then repeating the updated vaccine five months later,” Little said. “I encourage these folks to have this discussion with their physician as there is ‘no one size fits all.’”
Little cautioned that the situation is fluid, however: “This guidance will change if a new variant emerges that causes more severe disease.
“However, I feel that most people can wait until the new booster is released.
“Our elders and those most vulnerable to severe illness should begin taking additional precautions now (masking, hand hygiene, etc.) and consider taking antivirals if they contract Covid-19.”