Oklahoma has 1st coronavirus death; test shortage persists

TULSA, Okla. (AP) - An Oklahoma man in his 50s died after testing positive for the coronavirus, marking the state's first death linked to the pandemic, health officials announced Thursday.

The Tulsa County man tested positive for COVID-19 on Tuesday and died Wednesday, the Tulsa Health Department said.

“This is a tragedy for our community," said the department's executive director, Dr. Bruce Dart. "In these unprecedented times, everyone feels the weight of this loss.”

The Metro Pentecostal Church in Tulsa identified the victim as Merle Dry, 55, and said in a post on its Facebook page that Dye had been “fighting a cold" and had not been attending church services recently.

Dart said health officials launched an exhaustive investigation into the case and notified any businesses or individuals who may have been exposed. He described the case as “community spread," which means health officials aren't sure how or where a person became infected.

The vast majority of people who contract the virus recover within weeks. It causes only mild or moderate symptoms for most people, but it can lead to more severe illness, including pneumonia, especially in older adults and people with preexisting health problems.

Meanwhile, health and city officials in Tulsa urged the state's health commissioner, Gary Cox, to order the statewide closure of bars, restaurants and other businesses where large groups of people congregate. Several of the state's largest cities have ordered such shutdowns, but there has been no such move statewide.

Gov. Kevin Stitt issued an executive order Thursday to suspend a one-week waiting period before unemployment benefits can be paid, while the Oklahoma Tax Commission approved an order allowing individual tax filers to defer up to $1 million of state income tax payments that were due on April 15 until July 15 without penalties or interest.

Oklahoma has confirmed 44 cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, but officials warned Wednesday that the state was experiencing a shortage of testing kits and that the number of cases in Oklahoma was likely much higher. State epidemiologist Laurence Burnsed said Wednesday that the state had already used about 200 of its 300 testing kits.

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