Following two days of a dramatic decline in the daily number of new coronavirus cases in Oklahoma, the Oklahoma State Department of Health confirmed Monday that its data was not accurate due to “technical” problems the agency is experiencing.
The state reported 209 new cases on Sunday and 168 cases on Monday morning, both numbers were a steep decline compared to last week when a record 1,075 cases were reported Wednesday.
“Due to technical data entry issues, case counts for Sunday, July 19 and Monday, July 20 are low and do not reflect real-time data,” the Oklahoma State Department of Health wrote in a news release Monday morning.
When the issue is resolved, people can expect to see a “significant bulk increase” in the number of new cases reported that “does not reflect an increase in the rate of infection,” an emailed statement from the health department said.
A similar problem occurred on June 5 and June 18, but the glitch was resolved within 24 hours in both cases, according to the department’s statement.
“OSDH and other public health officials throughout the nation are dealing with outdated data systems and are often dependent on fax machines and manual data entry,” the statement said.
The state’s number of new cases reported on Monday was about 500 cases below the state’s seven-day average, which de-emphasizes daily swings. The average fell for the first time in about two weeks on Sunday following the reporting issues, data shows.
The Oklahoma State Department of Health is working to resolve the issues, it said in the release.
“In the meantime, Oklahomans who receive a positive test result through a State lab will continue to be promptly notified and connected to contract tracing efforts,” a release from the department said.
The state reported a new high for people hospitalized with the virus on Wednesday — 638 — compared to the previous high of 562 patients on March 31. There were 547 people hospitalized as of Friday’s report. More than 450 Oklahomans have died from COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.
Oklahoma’s positivity rate — the percentage of positive cases to tests conducted — has been trending upward in recent weeks. On Friday, the state reported the rate was at 5.8 percent, compared to 3.7 percent on June 1.
Following media reports of delays, the health department addressed lags in coronavirus test result processing and reporting in a news release on Friday, calling the state’s data systems “outdated” and cited the use of fax machines and manual data entry. The agency’s Acute Disease Services enters test results manually as they are reported by urgent care clinics, health providers, pharmacies and others, the release said.
“We have needed a technical solution since well before the pandemic,” said Travis Kirkpatrick, deputy commissioner of Prevention and Preparedness, in the release.
The Oklahoma State Department of Health is utilizing federal CARES Act funding to modernize the data entry system, the release said.
“OSDH is highly focused on COVID-19 testing, effectively tracing cases and ensuring those individuals who test positive are quarantined as quickly as possible before they spread the virus to others,” said Interim Health Commissioner Lance Frye in an emailed statement.
“We recognize the significant issues we’ve experienced in the past and are working to eliminate them by incorporating new technology to enhance the current system as we work towards a long-term solution.”
Editor’s note: This story was updated on July 20 with additional comments from the Oklahoma State Department of Health.