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Researchers Say Oklahoma Lags Far Behind In Coronavirus Testing, Contact Tracing

Oklahoma State Department of Health

Over seven months into Oklahoma's experience with the novel coronavirus, public health researchers say the state is falling far short of adequate levels of COVID-19 testing and contact tracing.

According to a database compiled by the Brown University School of Public Health and the Harvard Global Health Institute analyzing testing rates for all 50 states, as of Tuesday Oklahoma would need to conduct, on average, 1,197 tests per 100,000 residents per day for "mitigation" of its outbreak. It would need to conduct 4,448 to "suppress" it. The current rate is just 321.

"Mitigation is the minimal amount just to kind of keep things quiet," explained Dr. Jennifer Clark of the University of Tulsa's Oxley College of Health Sciences on a Wednesday call organized by the Oklahoma State University Center for Health Science's Project ECHO. "It's the point when we're at a low level of infection, and at this point Oklahoma is even below mitigation, and needs much more testing to even get to the mitigation stage, much less the suppression stage."

"Because of our widespread community involvement, we need to be testing toward the suppression target," Clark said.

A survey published Wednesday of states' contact tracing capacities conducted by NPR and Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security found Oklahoma falling far behind by that metric, too, counting just 400 state contact tracers, compared to an estimated need of 3,842. (The 400 figure does not include local health department contact tracers in Tulsa and Oklahoma Counties.)

The NPR/Johns Hopkins survey also found roughly half of all states, including Oklahoma, does not make contact tracing data publicly available.

In response to a request for comment, L. Anthony Triana of Saxum, a public relations firm contracted by the Oklahoma State Department of Health, said "OSDH, who serves all OK counties outside of our metropolitan areas, has more than adequate contact tracing staff and resources." He did not respond to a question about testing levels.

Chris joined Public Radio Tulsa as a news anchor and reporter in April 2020. He’s a graduate of Hunter College and the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism, both at the City University of New York.
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