EDITOR'S NOTE: This story was updated Friday afternoon to reflect that COVID-19 testing appointments are available for Sunday and next week at Payne County Health Department sites in Stillwater and Cushing.
COVID-19 continues to spread, with the Omicron variant now responsible for a majority of cases, according to the Oklahoma State Department of Health. The variant doesn’t seem to cause the same severity of illness but is more transmissible. In a state like Oklahoma, where just over half the population is fully vaccinated against the virus, a spike in cases isn't a surprise.
Measuring and responding effectively to that spike requires testing, which is becoming harder to get as more people find themselves exposed to the virus.
As of Jan. 5, the Oklahoma State Department of Health reported 3,440 daily average cases, an increase of 259% over a 14 day period.
On a map published by the Mayo Clinic that shows COVID hot spots in Oklahoma, Payne County is listed with 62.1 average daily cases and 76.2 cases per 100,000 people.
Stillwater Medical Center reported Wednesday that all nine of its ICU beds were full, three with COVID patients and six with non-COVID patients.
There were no available ICU beds and one ICU patient was on hold in the Emergency Room.
Among the hospital’s 81 staffed non-ICU beds, 13 were occupied by COVID patients and 68 were occupied by non-COVID patients, There were no available non-ICU beds.
The hospital reported that 76.4% of its COVID patients were not fully vaccinated.
SMC has stated it will continue to release a weekly bed capacity report as long as it has at least 10 COVID patients.
With COVID-19 infections on the rise and schools preparing to reopen following their holiday breaks, demand for testing is on the rise. Although Pres. Joe Biden announced in December that the federal government would be distributing 500,000 rapid test kits free of charge, that program has not been implemented yet.
The PBS News Hour reported that the U.S. Departments of Defense and Health and Human Services were executing an “accelerated emergency contract” but it would take several weeks before the kits would be available for shipment. The plan is to mail them to people who request them through a new government website.
Across the country, doctors are asking people to avoid using hospital emergency rooms for COVID testing and urging people to avoid testing themselves unnecessarily to save testing supplies for people who need them.
On Jan. 4, WTOP News reported the Virginia Health Department was asking people to avoid unnecessary travel that would prompt preventative testing.
The days of easy walk-in testing appear to be over, at least for the time being. Appointments for testing in the Stillwater area fill quickly, forcing people to wait at least a day or two.
SMC Director of Public Relations Shyla Eggers said every testing site the hospital operates has been extremely busy.
OSDH Public Information Scott Haywood told the News Press on Friday that the Payne County Health Department in Stillwater and Cushing has openings for testing Sunday and next week. The portal to sign up is located at https://osdh.immytech.com/
The Oklahoma State Department of Health’s most recent weekly epidemiology report showed a 24.9% positivity rate from testing across the state for Dec. 26 – Jan. 1 but that may not be the true number.
During a recent press briefing, state health officials said some testing sites were reporting positive cases to the state but were not reporting tests that had negative results, throwing off the data needed to accurately calculate positivity rates.
SMC testing sites have been seeing about a 40% positivity rate, Eggers said.
People testing ahead of the Christmas and New Year holidays, whether it was to meet airline requirements for travel or for peace of mind before gatherings, exhausted the supply of at-home tests – already a hot commodity – in many stores.
Staff at local drug stores told the News Press at-home testing kits are back-ordered through every supplier. Most sold their last kits around around Christmas and haven’t been able to restock since then. Even those who already had them ordered are being informed of shipping delays.
None could say when they would have more and all reported higher demand for the tests.
“We’re getting tons of calls and people stopping by, looking for them,” Lance Reese, a pharmacist at Charlie’s Discount Drug said.
Tiger Drug received 50 kits on Wednesday and all but one had sold by Thursday afternoon, a staff member said.
Alan’s Pharmacy gets at least 10 calls a day, Pharmacist Jane West said. The store has several hundred testing kits on back-order and has no idea when they might be in.
Only Cushing Family Drug reported having kits in stock. They came in early this week, Pharmacy Technician Krystal Johnson said.
About half have already been sold, with 10 going out the door Thursday, she said.
None of the pharmacies reported doing on-site testing, although Central Drug has bought the equipment to do so and next week it will be completing training required by OSDH.
The pharmacy will announce via social media when it is ready to offer the testing and provide more details about pricing, Pharmacist Chad Bayer said. The range will probably be $50-$100, depending on how much time they take to process and report.
COVID tests for Stillwater Public Schools students and staff
Stillwater Public Schools has announced it will be offering free COVID-19 testing at Skyline Elementary for district students and staff only at this time. The district doesn’t have the capacity to test parents or siblings who are not current SPS students, according to the announcement.
Hours of Operation:
Monday: 8:30 a.m.-4 p.m.
Tuesday: 8:30 a.m.-6 p.m.
Wednesday: 8:30 a.m.-4 p.m.
Thursday: 8:30 a.m.-6 p.m.
Friday: 8:30 a.m.-4 p.m.
Families will enter through the Nurse’s Office entrance toward the east side of the building (not the main entrance).
– Stillwater Public Schools