Mar. 19--Oklahoma faced a critical shortage of coronavirus testing agents on Wednesday as cases continued to mount, including the first child four years or younger and the first nursing home resident.
"Across the state, we are critically low on our test kits," Gov. Kevin Stitt said at a news conference. "Or more specifically, the reagent. That's the fluid that goes into making the swab positive or negative."
The state had the ability to test fewer than 100 people by Wednesday afternoon, Oklahoma epidemiologist Laurence Burnsed said, and the state has not been told when to expect more.
Stitt said the Oklahoma State Health Department can now only test the most vulnerable people, including those with severe symptoms or those who have underlying conditions, particularly with their hearts and lungs. The governor said he was in constant touch with the White House about getting new tests and that Health Department officials were consulting with private labs.
Confirmed cases of COVID-19 jumped from 17 to 29 in Oklahoma on Wednesday and included a young child who attended an Oklahoma City church day care center, the first resident of a nursing home and gospel singer Sandi Patty. On Wednesday afternoon, Devon Energy, a large oil and gas company in Oklahoma City, reported that an employee tested positive.
Meanwhile, a new wave of cancellations included the April 7 local elections in 74 counties and federal jury trials. Penn Square Mall in Oklahoma City reported that it would shut down.
Of the new cases reported by the Health Department on Wednesday, 11 were in Oklahoma and Cleveland counties; Tulsa County had one additional case.
Oklahoma City Mayor David Holt noted in a tweet that two-thirds of all confirmed cases are in the Oklahoma City metropolitan area.
"Undoubtedly, there are many more yet to be discovered, and as we all know, we have had proven local transmission since Sunday," Holt said.
"We have the opportunity to prevent significant loss of life if we continue to pursue best practices in our daily lives -- don't gather in groups, keep your distance, wash your hands, stay home as much as you can."
For the first time, the numbers included an Oklahoman four years old or younger.
A spokesman for the St. Luke's Childcare Centers said the child has not been in the daycare center since Friday. The childcare center contacted parents immediately on Wednesday; children in attendance and two teachers were in voluntary quarantine, the spokesman said, adding that the Oklahoma Department of Human Services urged the center to stay open.
The nursing home resident had been at Ponca City Nursing and Rehabilitation and was sent to a local hospital after experiencing symptoms, according to a press release from Care Providers Oklahoma.
The resident is expected to be released into the care of family. A resident who was in close contact has been tested but the results were not available.
Stitt's announcement that the state faced a critical shortage of tests came a week after the state used 58 tests on the Utah Jazz basketball team. On Tuesday,
Oklahoma's state senators and staff members were given tests that were sent to a private lab out of state.
Burnsden, the state epidemiologist, said private labs are also facing delays in getting the agents needed to conduct the tests.
Speaking to constituents on a telephone town hall, Oklahoma Sen. James Lankford on Wednesday said multiple private companies were developing various types of tests that should be widely available in the next couple weeks.
"The goal of this is that everyone who wants a test can get one," Lankford said. "But we are not there yet."
Because of the lack of testing, Lankford said "we actually really don't know how many cases we have in the United States."
Lankford, a Republican, and Sen. Jim Inhofe, a Republican, were two of only eight senators to vote against a bill Wednesday providing more money for Medicaid, food stamps, unemployment insurance and other programs to help people struggling with the economic fallout.
Both said they had problems with provisions requiring small businesses to pay for employee leave time. The bill was approved 90-8.
Lankford and Inhofe said the bill could make a bad situation worse for small businesses trying to stay afloat.
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