Oklahoma is set to change some of its coronavirus reporting procedures starting next week, and its COVID-19 dashboard will look a bit different starting Tuesday.
The Oklahoma State Department of Health is making a handful of adjustments to how it reports coronavirus infections, such as including antigen test results in daily case counts, state officials told reporters during a briefing at the state Capitol on Friday morning.
The state’s coronavirus dashboard will be modernized in an effort to improve “transparency” and “clarity,” officials said.
Here’s what you should know about the changes:
- Probable and suspected cases will be included in daily case counts
The Oklahoma State Department of Health will now include positive rapid antigen test results in its daily case numbers.
There are two kinds of tests used to identify active infections. Molecular tests, or PCR testing, search for the virus’ genetic material.
Antigen tests detect specific proteins on the surface of the virus. Antigen tests are less sensitive and require more virus in the body to achieve a positive result.
Early into the pandemic, there was minimal use of antigen tests in Oklahoma, and the ones available “weren’t that good,” said Interim Health Commissioner Lance Frye.
Antigen results were previously considered “probable cases” until they were confirmed through a PCR test and reported separately to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Frye said as antigen tests become more reliable, they will now be considered “cases.” At the same time, the tests are expected to become more prevalent in Oklahoma as the federal government rolls out plans to send about 200 antigen testing machines to long-term care facilities, and later in the fall, to schools.
Antigen tests are also becoming more popular in rural areas, Frye said.
Moving forward the state will also start including in daily case numbers symptomatic people who have not tested positive but have been in direct contact with someone with a confirmed infection. There are only a few of those cases, Frye said.
Probable and suspected cases were always treated as “confirmed” cases and went through the same contact tracing process, officials said.
- How case counts will look moving forward
There have been around 5,000 positive antigen tests in Oklahoma dating back to April, Frye said, but you won’t see those added to the state’s cumulative case number Tuesday.
They won’t be added retroactively, either, but they will be included in daily reports moving forward.
Don’t expect daily new case loads to increase dramatically — at least at first.
“It will go up,” Frye said. “To start off with, I don’t think that number is going to be significant. But in the future, that’s why we need to do it now.”
Daily new infection numbers are likely to go up as antigen testing machines are deployed to schools and long-term care facilities, he said.
The increase will vary by county, said Interim State Epidemiologist Jared Taylor. Some rural counties rely more on antigen tests.
Those counties will likely report a rise in new cases, Taylor said, while in metro areas such as Tulsa and Oklahoma City, there will be almost no change at all.
- Changes to how the test positivity rate is calculated
Oklahoma also will change how it calculates its test positivity rate, or the percentage of positive cases to tests conducted, conforming to the methodology used by Johns Hopkins University.
The Oklahoma State Department of Health currently finds the rate by dividing the total number of positive results by the total number of tests completed.
The new method will eliminate repeat positives, or those who tested positive for the virus more than once, from the state’s calculation and rely only on unique cases.
Frye said the new method will make it easier to compare data by state-to-state, as states are not using a uniform process.
“You can compare apples to apples,” he said.