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Report finds Oklahoma has the highest COVID death rate in the country in 2021

Office of Gov. Kevin Stitt
Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt (left) tours a nursing program facility at Oklahoma City Community College on Oct. 27, 2021.

Oklahoma had the highest COVID-19 death rate in the U.S. in 2021, according to one new data analysis.

The NBCLX report published Monday said, according to mortality data from Johns Hopkins University, Oklahoma had a COVID death rate of 248 deaths for every 100,000 residents in 2021, ahead of second place Alabama, with 230 deaths per 100,000 residents, and well ahead of the national average of 137 deaths per 100,000 residents.

Officials with the Oklahoma State Department of Health on Tuesday said they don't categorically dispute the ranking, but that according to their internal mortality data, calculated by date of death, Oklahoma had a rate of 158.9 COVID-related deaths per 100,000 residents this year. They also argued that sufficient data did not yet exist to accurately rank states by death rate.

"Data are still provisional and being collected, and we don't have the full picture in order to provide an accurate ranking at this time," said Derek Pate, director of the health department's Center for Health Statistics.

Department officials also noted some of the deaths counted in the Johns Hopkins tabulations occurred in 2020 but were dated 2021 based on when they were finally reported.

The health department's most recent weekly epidemiology report, dated Wednesday, cites CDC data to place Oklahoma at 11th nationally in terms of cumulative COVID death rate since the start of the pandemic.

Dr. Dale Bratzler, chief COVID officer for the University of Oklahoma, said during a Healthier Oklahoma Coalition press briefing on Dec. 21 that Statista showed Oklahoma as ranking 6th nationally for cumulative COVID death rate since the start of the pandemic. Bratzler said there were signs early on that the state would fare poorly with the virus.

"Early in the pandemic, CDC produced a map that showed vulnerable populations across the country, and Oklahoma had one of the highest, most vulnerable populations in the country, because of the fairly extensive comorbid conditions that we have — obesity, diabetes, heart disease, lung disease and other things," Bratzler said. "So that would be my biggest speculation — that we have a fairly unhealthy population."

"And then we have — you know, I looked at it just a couple of days ago — only 54% of our population that's eligible has been vaccinated at this point. There are a lot of unvaccinated Oklahomans out there," Bratzler said.

As of Tuesday morning, the CDC reported that Oklahoma ranked 38th nationally for percent of the population fully vaccinated, at 53.3%.

The office of Gov. Kevin Stitt on Tuesday declined a request for comment on the state's COVID-19 death rate.

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.