State Health Commissioner Defends Color-Coded COVID Map: 'Their Red Is Our Orange'

Sep 24, 2020

Look at any number of county-level COVID-19 maps of the United States, like those from the White House and the Harvard Global Health Institute, and you'll see dozens of Oklahoma's counties in red. 

But on the color-coded map issued by the Oklahoma State Department of Health, you won't. Col. Lance Frye, the department's interim commissioner, says that's by design. 

"We said this from day one: It was never meant to confuse people," Frye told reporters at a Thursday news conference. "We've always said their red is our orange."

Oklahoma's COVID alert system requires a level of triggers to be hit on a statewide level before any single county can be considered red, no matter how bad an outbreak in a particular county is. Frye said the red category was created as an "internal" alert mechanism, meant to alert state officials like Gov. Kevin Stitt that more must be done to combat the virus.

"We need everyone to understand when you see red on those other national maps, that's our orange. Our orange is their red. It's the same," Frye said, responding to a reporter who said Oklahomans are confused by the disparity.

Dr. George Monks, president of the Oklahoma State Medical Association, has said the current system is insufficient, describing it as akin to a tornado alert system that doesn't sound sirens until after a tornado has passed.

The White House's latest report for Oklahoma, in which dozens of counties are listed as red, says the state ranked 3rd worst in the nation for test positivity and 6th worst for rate of new infections.