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New State COVID Data Reporting Schedule Giving Some Experts Headaches

Screenshot by Dr. George Monks
Screenshot of the New York Times COVID-19 Tracker map taken Tuesday, showing Oklahoma as the only state not reporting coronavirus data.

A change in the way COVID-19 data is being reported by the Oklahoma State Department of Health is causing issues for some in the public health sphere, with some saying it's impeding their ability to track the virus's spread.

"I think we're a bit blind right now," said Dr. Dale Bratzler, chief COVID officer for OU Health, discussing the state switching over from daily to weekly updates for some data on a Tuesday press conference hosted by the Healthier Oklahoma Coalition. "I'm not happy that we're not reporting county, city and ZIP code level data right now.

"We don't know, we won't be able to tell quite as well whether we see hotspots or outbreaks in the state. Perhaps the state health department will be able to do that, but we won't be able to see it because it's not transparent right now," Bratzler said.

Dr. George Monks, president of the Oklahoma State Medical Association, pointed out on Twitter Tuesday that Oklahoma was the only one of all fifty states to show as not reporting data on the New York Times COVID Tracker.

"Oklahoma is now the white hole in the center of the nation," Monks said.

"The maps that have been routinely posted by, let's say, the Harvard - Brown University Pandemic Center, it looks like Oklahoma is turning all green. Well, that's because they've been adding zeros for every county now for the past week, so the seven-day rolling average keeps dropping," Bratzler said. "It looks like we're the only state not reporting county data right now."

Dr. Jennifer Clark, subject matter expert for the OSU COVID-19 Project Echo, said Wednesday morning that the "big change" OSDH made is resulting in inaccurate data being reported in numerous places.

"That dashboard feeds into pretty much all of the national data, so for those of you who follow the Harvard Global Health Institute, for those of you who follow the New York Times coronavirus tracker -- even some of the CDC county-by-county tracking is linked straight to our dashboard," Clark said. "So those data are not up-to-date."

“After a year of reporting daily numbers in many categories, with cases, deaths and hospitalizations all trending downward, and vaccination continuing to trend upward, we believe now is a good time to switch to weekly reporting," deputy state epidemiologist Joli Stone said in a statement last week announcing the change. "Data transparency has been and will continue to be important to OSDH, no matter the cadence of reporting.” 

"The most recent days are missing data while the state switches to reporting this data on a weekly basis each Wednesday," said Derek Pate, OSDH director, asked about the lack of data reflected on national maps. "The data will be available for the organizations to update their maps once the weekly data is updated today."

"It does not 'backfill' day-over-day case counts," Pate said. "Rather, it updates the information that is currently plotted by date of onset. Some of the new cases will have been diagnosed/started last week but a portion will also be from several weeks to a month or more back."

As of Wednesday afternoon's weekly data release, the state was reporting 436,135 known infections over the course of the pandemic, with the CDC reporting 7,277 known deaths in the state. 

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