One in every 400 Oklahomans has died from COVID-19.

That was the grim statistic delivered Wednesday by the University of Oklahoma’s Chief COVID Officer Dr. Dale Bratzler. Nationally, more than 650,000 Americans have died from the disease, officially cementing it as the third leading cause of death in the country behind heart disease and cancer.

By comparison, the leading cause of death in America, heart disease, killed 659,041 people in the U.S. in 2019, according to the CDC. Influenza, which many often erroneously compare to COVID-19, killed 49,783 people that year.

“This is the third leading cause of death in the nation, and you still have people that aren’t getting the vaccine,” Bratzler said. “What will it take to convince people this isn’t a political stunt? How do we move beyond the politics of it all? I don’t know the best answer. We need to treat this as a public health problem, not a political one.”

The virus, like measles, smallpox and polio before it, does not discriminate by gender, age, race, religion, or political affiliation, Bratzler said. It does not care who it infects, only that it continues to do so.

“One out of every 400 Oklahomans are dead. Will that help convince people who are vaccine hesitant? I don’t know. What I have found is that when someone knows somebody, particularly a family member, who suffers severe complications or even death from this virus, those people do begin to realize how serious it is.”

The pandemic continues to impact the unvaccinated the most heavily. At Comanche County Memorial Hospital, 83 percent of its 48 COVID patients are unvaccinated. And with the recent surge in cases from the delta variant, deaths have only increased.

The average number of COVID patients in July was 4, that number jumped to 28 in August. The increased caseload has also meant an increased workload.

“Directors and managers are working shifts on the floors alongside their nursing staff due to the higher census to provide safe, quality care,” Nicole Jolly, the hospital’s marketing director, said. “CCMH officials continue to work closely with the Comanche County Health Department regarding our COVID cases. CCMH remains committed to serving our community’s needs at all times while keeping our patients, team members and visitors safe during this pandemic.”

As of Wednesday, Oklahoma ranked 21st in the nation in terms of new cases per day per 100,000 population. This is a good trend, Bratzler said, as Oklahoma was in the top 10 in the nation recently.

“The good news is that cases are trending down around the state overall,” Bratzler said. “Hospitalizations have come down a bit. And again this is a trend we want to see. But our hospitals are going to be clogged for a bit. Every county in the state is still in the red for community transmission.”

Batzler said he was quite pleased with the downward trend in Oklahoma, but said the cost of life from the pandemic has made a profound impact on the U.S. and the world.

“If you count up all the years of life that have been lost from the 650,000 that have died in the U.S., it is more than 9 million years. We are hitting around 1,900 deaths a day in the U.S. which is as high as we were last March,” Bratzler said.

Bratzler was cautiously optimistic that the state would see cases continue to decline, but cautioned that Oklahomans are far from out of the woods and that the health care system would continue to be stressed by the weight of unvaccinated patients.

“The vaccines are incredibly safe,” Bratzler said. “In a recent study of more than 6 million people in the U.S., they didn’t find a single side effect that occurred from the vaccine more commonly than it occurred in the general population. These are some of the safest vaccines we have ever had.”

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