OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – An Oklahoma doctor discussed a discrepancy in the Oklahoma State Department of Health’s reporting of COVID cases Friday.

The discrepancy comes as Dr. George Monks, former president of the Oklahoma State Medical Association, said there is a little bit of a lull right now with COVID-19. He said there’s a relatively low number of cases and quite a bit of immunity built up with vaccines and those that have had the virus. However, he still called it a head scratcher as to why the Department of Health is reporting the cases this way.

“I don’t understand why they’ve come up with this new policy,” Monks said. “Those of us who are caring for patients, guiding communities, working to lower the spread of this disease, cannot make informed decisions if there’s additional barriers to quick reporting. We’re really disappointed that the State Health Department is taking this action.”

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OSDH report on March 20-26 COVID-19 cases.

The department sends out weekly COVID case reports now. Between March 20 and March 26, Oklahoma reported 403 cases. It also lists the previously reported total number of cases throughout the pandemic along with the updated one. The only problem is the difference between those two comes out to 1,807 cases, leaving a discrepancy of 1,404.

“It appears that they’re no longer counting cases where they receive the results more than seven days after the test was taken,” Monks said. “We’re a little confused by the State Health Department coming out with this new way of counting new COVID cases.”

The Health Department told KFOR Friday that the reason for it is in the fine print at the bottom. The 403 cases falls within the listed time frame in late March. The cumulative numbers include those new cases, as well as older ones that were delayed in reporting. However, those that are delayed in reporting or don’t fall within the specific time frame listed do not get included in the “new cases” column.

“This data doesn’t jive with what they’re releasing to the CDC,” Monks said. “It can create an unnecessary lag and really skews the statistics downward.”

Monks said he also sees issues with it due to Oklahomans seeing delayed test results throughout the pandemic. It’s not yet clear what, if any, changes will take place to address the discrepancy. We will have updates as more details become clear.

“I think as COVID moves from an act of emergency to a fact of life, we understand that the State Health Department is going to reallocate resources,” Monks said. “But when it comes to COVID reporting, we really need to look at how the lessons of our past should guide our policy now.”

Officials with the Oklahoma State Department of Health say the CDC continues to report data based on the difference in cumulative case counts from one report to the next. However, they say that while the CDC has established systems, it can take a while to make the necessary changes.

“Many of the delayed cases being reported came from when the labs got overwhelmed with the omicron surge (which was weeks/months ago).  Recent reporting of cases has tended to be timely.  Attempting to use the difference in cumulative case counts to determine the amount of disease in the population (and more specifically the trends in the population) at this point in the pandemic is misleading.  The way we are now reporting the data is using or standard reporting processes.  It aligns with how influenza data is reported. 

As with all attempts to report real time COVID data, there is no perfect system. Delayed reporting from multiple sources will always limit our ability to provide perfect data. However, this method is a much closer approximation of the current reality.”

Erica Rankin-Riley, Public Information Officer for the Oklahoma State Department of Health