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Health commissioner: Oklahomans can be confident in state lab's COVID sequencing with deficiencies addressed


The head of the Oklahoma State Department of Health said Thursday state residents can still have confidence in the public health lab’s ability to perform genetic analyses of positive COVID-19 tests.

COVID sequencing was among the items The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services faulted the lab on for shortcomings in the wake of a September inspection triggered by a complaint. The report also said Oklahoma had among the fewest samples sequenced in the U.S.

Interim State Health Commissioner Keith Reed said CMS approved Oklahoma’s improvement plan and will follow up with surprise inspections, and OSDH is also taking steps.

“We are working on mock surveys internally to help ensure that we are compliant. We have project management in place that looks at these individual actions we have taken,” Reed said. “So, we feel like we have taken very strong measures to ensure that any concerns that were addressed in the CMS report were addressed and we have the best lab possible moving forward.”

While the omicron variant has been detected in about two-dozen states, Oklahoma health officials said it has not been found here yet. Reed said the state public health lab is sequencing 100% of COVID-positive samples it receives and labs are still being asked to send in at least 10% of their positive specimens.

Reed said with at-home rapid tests becoming more available, however, labs are running fewer PCR tests, the kind that can be sequenced to detect variants.

“Now, having said that, I do want to make sure and point out a sequencing process is never meant to be all encompassing. It's more surveillance data There's no way to sequence an amount that is equal to all the positive tests we see in a population,” Reed said.

Matt Trotter joined KWGS as a reporter in 2013. Before coming to Public Radio Tulsa, he was the investigative producer at KJRH. His freelance work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times and on MSNBC and CNN.