A large coronavirus outbreak in a women’s prison near Muskogee and community spread in college towns drove the hotspots for active cases this week in Oklahoma.
Eddie Warrior Correctional Center in Taft, just outside Muskogee, had 721 inmates and 16 staff members with positive cases as of Thursday, according to the Oklahoma Department of Corrections. That pushed the 74463 ZIP code in Taft to the top hotspot in the state, according to an Oklahoma Watch analysis of data from the Oklahoma State Department of Health.
Outbreaks at other prisons, like Howard McLeod Correctional Center near Atoka and the Lexington Assessment and Reception Center, contributed to increases in active cases in those ZIP codes.
ZIP codes in Stillwater and Norman were among the biggest increases in active cases in those college towns. The University of Oklahoma and Oklahoma State University returned to fall classes in the last couple of weeks. (story continues below)
In Guymon, where an outbreak at a meat-processing plant hit several months ago, there was a small spike in new cases reported this week. Guymon High School last week announced a quarantine of its football and volleyball teams after several individuals tested positive for coronavirus. The 73942 ZIP code in Guymon had 71 active cases by Friday, up 48 from a week ago.
Meanwhile, health officials on Friday announced some tweaks to the state’s reporting of coronavirus cases. Starting Sept. 8, the health department will count rapid tests, or antigen tests, in its daily count of COVID-19 cases. Previously, the state treated the results from antigen tests as “probable” and did contact tracing behind the scenes, but it didn’t report them as confirmed cases.
As antigen tests have gotten more reliable, health officials will now count those positive test results as confirmed cases. However, the health department won’t go back and add the antigen test results to previous data, saying it would be too confusing.
Officials said the change was made to “recognize the growing importance of antigen testing in our mix, improve transparency and reduce public confusion.” The federal government is now shipping rapid test machines to nursing homes and will send them to schools later this fall, so the health department wanted to make sure it was ready to deal with higher volumes of antigen tests.
The department will also change the way it calculates test positivity rates, putting the state more in line with the reporting by Johns Hopkins University’s coronavirus data. The change will likely lower the rate slightly, but it will be more accurate because it will eliminate repeat positive tests if an individual tested positive more than once, officials said.
“Everything we’re doing right now is trying to make our data the best we can,” interim Health Commissioner Dr. Lance Frye said Friday. “We want to be as uniform as we can with what is expected from the rest of the states.”
Oklahoma had more than 62,000 confirmed coronavirus cases as of Friday, while the death toll from the virus reached 846, according to health department data. There were 9,071 active cases, an all-time high.
No new counties were added to the “orange” alert level this week, with 38 counties remaining in that designation. Another 37 counties were in the low-risk, or yellow alert, level, while two counties, Cimarron and Ellis, were in the lowest green level.
Paul Monies has been a reporter with Oklahoma Watch since 2017 and covers state agencies and public health. Contact him at (571) 319-3289 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @pmonies.