The Oklahoma State Department of Health is able to say with certainty the Delta variant of COVID-19 is now causing at least some of the infections in northeast Oklahoma where cases have been rising.
Public health officials suspected the more transmissible Delta variant was to blame, but couldn’t say for sure since Oklahoma has struggled with variant identification. The moving of the public health lab from Oklahoma City to Stillwater during the pandemic caused delays in the genetic sequencing needed to tag different viral strains.
On June 22nd, OSDH sent out a message to labs and providers across the state via its emergency network saying it needed samples to ramp up sequencing. State epidemiologist Jolianne Stone said at a press conference today some samples arrived from the northeast.
“We did have hospitals up in that area partner with us, we did receive multiple specimens from some of those hospitalized patients, and from some of those clusters we are investigating, and they are the Delta variant,” said Stone.
She went on to say some requirements may be put in place to mandate samples be sent to the public health lab.
“Dependent on what we receive this week, on the number of specimens we receive, will depend on further active surveillance, further discussion with the governor and the legislature, requiring labs to send a certain percentage of their positives moving forward.”
The Oklahoma Legislature is adjourned, so it’s unclear what the timeline of this requirement may be.
Dr. David Kendrick, CEO of nonprofit MyHealth Access Network, also reviewed the state’s current COVID numbers.
“We are now statewide over 9% positivity rate,” said Kendrick. “Now remember we have a really low rate of testing. It just is the case that a high percentage of those tests are coming back positive.”
Kendrick said that the high positivity rate of tests suggests people aren’t getting tested unless they have symptoms, a difference from other stages of the pandemic when wide public sampling was more available.
Kendrick said Tulsa County is sitting just below the statewide positivity rate, with 8.7% of tests coming back positive.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, there have been 308 new cases of COVID-19 in Tulsa County in the past seven days. The county has been upgraded from substantial to high transmission, meaning there have been more than 100 cases per 100,000 people in the area.