Novel coronavirus cases in Stillwater and Payne County continued to increase this week, with a spike of 40 new cases countywide on Thursday, according to the Oklahoma State Department of Health.
Stillwater accounted for the vast majority with 37 new cases, pushing it to 8th in the state for cumulative cases.
The Payne County Health Department reported that approximately 70% of the new cases are in people 18-35 years old.
Stillwater City Manager Norman McNickle said he worries about how the spike among younger people could still affect medically vulnerable populations.
“If you think about it, the 18-24 year olds are often the ones waiting tables, stocking shelves and working other customer service roles,” he said Thursday in a City of Stillwater release. “While they are often not symptomatic, this makes it more likely they can spread the virus to more people.”
Stillwater Medical Center has reported it is feeling pressure in staffing due to an overall high number of patients, McNickle reported.
The hospital later clarified that its high census numbers are due to other illnesses. COVID-19 patients account for less than 2% of the overall patients.
SMC has produced a graph that uses Health Department data to track the number of new cases per day as raw numbers and as the seven-day average of new cases per 100,000 in population, for both Stillwater and Payne County.
Payne County entered the orange zone of the Oklahoma State Department of Health’s alert system on Friday, when the health department reported average new infections reached 15.23 per 100,000.
After deciding on Friday to continue with traditional in-person classes for the second week of school, Stillwater Public Schools Superintendent Marc Moore changed course on Sunday and shifted traditional students to distance learning after the county posted 19 new cases on Saturday and 21 new cases on Sunday. The latest spike pushes the district into Orange Level 2 on the color-coded system it uses to determine methods of instruction.
SPS students will continue distance learning until infection numbers take a sustained downward trend, Moore said Sunday.
Meridian Technology Center also decided over the weekend to shift to a curriculum that blends online and in-person instruction to limit the number of students in the building at any one time.
It too will continue until there is a sustained drop, which means MTC will not necessarily go back to its normal schedule as soon as the county reenters the yellow zone, Executive Director of Communications and Marketing Dana Wallace told the News Press.
Oklahoma State University launched its own dashboard Tuesday to communicate campus statistics, based on the previous Monday – Sunday period.
As of Tuesday, OSU reported its Health Service Center performed 540 COVID-19 tests for the week of Aug. 17-23 with 49 positive cases for a rate of 9.07%. All but one of those positive cases was a student.
The university had 13 students in quarantine housing.
Another 108 individuals who were tested off-campus self-reported their cases to the university.
Stillwater’s numbers, when considered on their own, have been in the orange zone of the alert system nearly every day since Aug. 14, except for a two-day period Aug. 16-17.
As of Thursday, the county seven-day average was 27.28 cases per 100,000 and Stillwater’s seven-day average per 100,000 was 33.37.
“We hope this is simply a spike similar to what we experienced in July, and that our number of positive cases will decrease,” City Manager Norman McNickle said.
The City of Stillwater is working with OSU, Stillwater Medical Center and the Payne County Health Department to monitor conditions.
SPS, MTC and OSU have their own plans and policies in place.
The City of Stillwater is asking anyone experiencing symptoms or that may have been in contact with a confirmed case of COVID-19 to contact their healthcare provider or the County Health Department for testing.
Residents are encouraged to follow the Payne County Health Department Facebook page for up-to-date information on testing opportunities.
“It’s important to remember that our individual actions can affect the community as a whole— so let’s continue to protect our neighbors by washing our hands, wearing a face covering and avoiding crowds,” McNickle said. “Let’s work together as a community to stop the spread of the COVID-19 virus.”
CDC guidance includes: