Oklahoma State Department of Health

Oklahoma State Department of Health

Oklahoma's top health official said Thursday that while he recognizes state government has outlawed school mask requirements, he does believe universal masking in schools would be ideal to keep students and staff safe from the growing threat of COVID-19.

"It's not a perfect world and that's not a possibility, so, I want everybody to wear a mask at school," Oklahoma State Department of Health Commissioner Dr. Lance Frye told Public Radio Tulsa during a virtual press briefing on Thursday when asked if he would ideally want schools to be able to enforce mask requirements.

Whitney Bryen, Oklahoma Watch

The Oklahoma State Department of Health is acknowledging the squeeze on hospitals created by patients severely ill with COVID-19.

According to a hospital association survey this week, 22% of staffed hospital beds in the state — 1,309 out of 5,913 — are occupied by someone with COVID. That’s on top of hospital demand that’s typically higher this time of year.

State Health Commissioner Dr. Lance Frye said the survey represents the count at a single point in time and numbers can fluctuate.

Oklahoma State Department of Health

Saying wearing a mask is a strictly optional "personal choice," Oklahoma State Department of Health Commissioner Dr. Lance Frye on Friday told reporters at the department's first media briefing in over a month that he does not endorse the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention COVID-19 guidelines recommending universal indoor masking to help reduce the spread of the highly transmissible delta variant in areas of high transmission.

Jackie Fortier / StateImpact Oklahoma

As coronavirus hospitalizations surge past 1,000 daily, Oklahoma health officials are raising concerns that the state’s hospital services are strained with no solution in sight.

In a weekly update to state agencies, the Oklahoma State Department of Health designated the state’s hospital system as “unstable,” stating that, “Services (are) disrupted and no solution (is) identified or in progress.”

Photo courtesy of the Food and Drug Administration

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.


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.”


Officials from the Oklahoma State Department of Health say they’re asking all medical providers and laboratories across the state to send positive COVID-19 samples to the public health lab in Stillwater for variant sequencing.


“There’s a big notification going out today that says, ‘If you have a positive specimen, please send it to us because we want to be as robust as possible,’” said state epidemiologist Jolianne Stone. 


Oklahoma State Department of Health

Oklahoma ranks 50th in the nation for percent of COVID-19 test samples being sequenced to detect virus variants of concern, according to data from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

"Oklahoma has sequenced 0.18% of the positive tests that we've seen coming through on the state level," said Dr. Mary Clarke, president of the Oklahoma State Medical Association, on a Tuesday press briefing conducted virtually by the Healthier Oklahoma Coalition.

Tulsa Health Department

The Oklahoma State Department of Health said Tuesday it will be able to extend the shelf life of 75,000 doses of Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine that were set to expire at the end of this month due to a change in federal guidance.

"The 75,000 doses anticipated to expire in June will now be available for administration until August 7, with some of the lots expiring July 24," the department said in a news release.

Oklahoma State Department of Health

A top state health official said Thursday that the Oklahoma State Department of Health is not giving up on improving COVID-19 vaccination rates in the state after weeks of placing near the bottom in national rankings.

State officials said Tuesday they are on track to have Oklahoma’s new public health lab in Stillwater fully operational by October.

Newborn screening and COVID-19 sequencing are now being done there. Newborn screening tests had been outsourced to a Pennsylvania lab, while COVID sequencing remained in Oklahoma City.

A dedicated team is working on the lab build out. Health department officials expect the lab will be capable of handling sexually transmitted disease, tuberculosis, rabies, mycology and microbiology testing by the fall.

State Starts Tracking COVID-19 Variants

May 19, 2021

Oklahoma is recognizing the need to track COVID-19 variants.


Dr. Jennifer Clark of Oklahoma State University’s ECHO Project pointed to new data on variants released by the Oklahoma State Department of Health in early May, but says this information isn’t where it needs to be yet. 



According to the Centers for Disease Control, 69% of COVID-19 infections in Oklahoma's region are now caused by variant B117. More variants are on the rise, as well.

"We have not identified any new variants...but variants of interest have grown considerably," said Dr. Jennifer Clark of Oklahoma State University's Project ECHO.   

Less Data Available As COVID-19 Emergency Order Expires

May 4, 2021

With the expiration of Governor Stitt’s COVID-19 emergency order, less data about the pandemic will be available to Oklahomans.


In a press conference today, Derek Pate, Chief Integrity Officer for the State Department of Health, announced a number of changes to its COVID-19 website, including a delay in reporting of positive cases.  


The Oklahoma State Department of Health has announced a new state epidemiologist.

Jolianne Stone, formerly deputy state epidemiologist, will be the fourth official to serve in the role over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, following Laurence Burnsed, Dr. Aaron Wendelboe, and outgoing Dr. Jared Taylor.

Stone's "past experience includes Infection Prevention Manager at Integris, and she brings her unique perspective addressing the COVID-19 pandemic in a hospital setting to this new position," according to a news release from the state.

Logan County Health Department

The Oklahoma State Department of Health said Thursday it was investigating an alleged incident in Logan County where a trans woman was denied a COVID-19 vaccine.

Advocacy group Freedom Oklahoma tweeted, "Hey [OSDH] why is Logan Co Health Department turning away a trans woman trying to get a vaccine and telling us to take it up with the state?"

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Oklahoma health officials say as the state moves COVID-19 case reporting off of the system known as PHIDDO, one lab had an undiscovered technical error for about six weeks.

State Epidemiologist Dr. Jared Taylor said that’s been sorted out. Most of the infections were actually acquired in January and February, but there will be an artificial increase in cases Wednesday because of the previously unreported ones.

The Oklahoman — pool photo

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — The Oklahoma State Health Department has no record of receiving more than $20 million worth of personal protective equipment that it bought to help protect against COVID-19, a state audit revealed.

The state auditor released a report Tuesday that found 28 wire payments from the Health Department totaling $20,431,981 without documentation that the purchased PPE was received. The equipment is worn to minimize exposure to hazards that cause serious injuries and illnesses, including COVID-19.

Healthier Oklahoma Coalition

While Oklahoma appears to be trending well in terms of COVID-19 infection and vaccination rates, public health experts and officials are warning that things could change without vigilance.

"Listen, everyone -- the pandemic is not over yet," said Dr. Aaron Wendelboe, an epidemiologist and professor at the OU Health Sciences Center who formerly served as Oklahoma's state epidemiologist, on a Tuesday press briefing held virtually by the Healthier Oklahoma Coalition. "We have not dropped to levels of transmission that are sustainable, that we can control."

Oklahoma health officials defended on Friday the switch to weekly reporting of COVID-19 data but admitted they did not do a good job communicating the change.

The state health department is now updating its dashboard on Wednesdays with data covering the past Sunday through Saturday.

"Even that is extraordinarily responsive. That’s the most that we do for any other disease," said State Epidemiologist Dr. Jared Taylor.

Contact Tracing Investment Yielded No COVID-19 Insights, Report Finds

Mar 25, 2021
Paul Monies / Oklahoma Watch

Updated March 25, 7:20 p.m.

Oklahoma’s boost to its COVID-19 contact tracing efforts led to no insights and was marred by technology problems and a failure to collect the proper data, a new legislative report finds.

Oklahoma spent more than $6.7 million to centralize its COVID-19 contact tracing last summer at the Shepherd Center in Oklahoma City. The state used temporary workers from Express Services Inc. to staff the call center, which had its own coronavirus outbreaks among employees at times.

Screenshot by Dr. George Monks

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.

Oklahoma Watch

A state Senate committee on Monday moved several of Gov. Kevin Stitt’s nominees for state health officials one step closer to confirmation, advancing them to the floor.

Those included Oklahoma Health Care Authority CEO Kevin Corbett to serve as state secretary of health and mental health. OHCA is currently in the middle of a transition to outsourcing management of the state’s Medicaid program as requested by Stitt. Sen. Jessica Garvin (R-Duncan) told Corbett a majority of the legislature still opposes that move.

National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases

The Oklahoma State Department of Health announced Wednesday it is changing how it reports COVID-19 data going forward.

"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. Data transparency has been and will continue to be important to OSDH, no matter the cadence of reporting," Deputy State Epidemiologist Joli Stone said in a statement.

Oklahoma State Department of Health

With COVID-19 vaccine eligibility now expanded to the vast majority of Oklahoma adults, the state health department is urging everyone who qualifies -- including community and government leaders -- to seek out their shots as soon as possible. 

Oklahoma State Department of Health

Oklahoma now has greater capability to perform genomic sequencing on COVID-19 samples, making detection of any mutations or variants easier to do in-house -- but the state epidemiologist said Thursday the upgrade's usefulness is dependent on whether Oklahomans continue to proactively seek out testing.

Oklahoma Medical Reserve Corps

Despite pregnant patients not being included in clinical trials for the Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines, experts say that doesn't necessarily mean the shots aren't safe for them.

American Academy of Pediatrics Oklahoma Chapter

Public health experts and physicians' groups said Thursday that Gov. Kevin Stitt is misrepresenting research to justify his push for all school districts in Oklahoma to offer in-person learning despite the state's severe and dire COVID-19 situation.

Tulsa Health Department

In a Wednesday afternoon press release, the state of Oklahoma boasted of being nationally ranked in the top ten for the percent of the state population which had received an initial dose of COVID-19 vaccine. “Oklahoma has a plan in place for vaccine distribution, and we are seeing the effective results of this, as we are among the Top 10 states in the nation getting our people vaccinated,” Gov. Kevin Stitt said in the release.

Jackie Fortier / StateImpact Oklahoma

The Frontier’s Kassie McClung and StateImpact Oklahoma collaborated on this story.

Contractors could soon manage the Oklahoma Public Health Laboratory, Interim Commissioner of Health Lance Frye told employees this week.

Additionally, health officials confirmed to The Frontier and StateImpact that the plan now includes temporarily moving portions of the lab into trailers while renovations to the interim facility are underway.