State Health Department Sends Alert To Health Providers Asking For Immediate Action On Variants
On June 22nd the Oklahoma State Department of Health sent out an alert via its emergency health network asking labs and providers across the state for positive tests of COVID-19 to use for variant identification.
According to the emergency network's website, an alert is classified as the “highest level of notification. This usually refers to an immediate threat to the OSDH community and requires immediate action.”
“As COVID-19 evolves and new variants of the virus continue to emerge it is important the Oklahoma State Department of Health (OSDH) Public Health Laboratory (PHL) receive COVID-19 specimens to identify variant trends and implement mitigation measures to prevent the continued spread of COVID-19 in Oklahoma,” reads the alert.
The alert goes on to say since testing is low, OSDH is asking for COVID-19 samples from across the state that meet certain criteria. The criteria include requirements about test positivity, time and temperature concerns, and shipping requirements.
OSDH has been struggling to ramp up its sequencing capabilities as the Delta variant becomes more of a global concern. Oklahoma ranks at the bottom nationally for variant testing.
Dr. Mary Clarke is the president of the Oklahoma State Medical Association. She said that since Oklahoma has a high number of unvaccinated people, a new variant coming through could diminish previous records of illness.
“Potentially our winter and fall and early January, February numbers may not be the peak that we might see,” said Clarke.
As of June 27th, Oklahoma has experienced 197 new cases. In Tulsa County, between June 19th and June 25th, 259 cases were identified. COVID hospital admissions in the county jumped 12.5% in the same timeframe.
About 6% of COVID ICU beds were also in use in Tulsa County, a drop of about 2% from the previous seven days.
According to the CDC, variant sequencing is important because it helps public health officials tailor treatment.
Dr. Clarke said one reason why Oklahoma has struggled to sequence is because of the moving of the public health lab from Oklahoma City to Stillwater during the pandemic. She criticized the 70 mile move for its upset to employees.
“We have always said that whether the moving of the lab was appropriate at any particular time, moving the lab in the middle of a pandemic was not appropriate.
You can argue why the move was made, you can argue space, you can argue all kinds of things. But the choice to move a public health lab that is instrumental in data sharing in the middle of a pandemic was never going to be the smart move.”
Dr. Clarke said she remains hopeful OSDH can boost its sequencing efforts.
“We hope they can do what their expectations and their statements have been.”
Two dose vaccines are thought to be close to 90% effective against the Delta variant. As of June 27th, 44.6% of Oklahomans have received one dose of COVID-19 vaccine.