Concerns raised over COVID-19 variant testing, reporting in Oklahoma

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OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – As the omicron variant is spreading across the country, one local health expert fears we’re not getting a clear picture of its impact on Oklahoma.

“I think we need to identify that we’ve had a failure and we need to fix it,” said Dr. George Monks, with the Oklahoma State Medical Association. “Oklahomans deserve better.”

Monks is constantly going over the state’s COVID-19 numbers and tests for variants of concern and that’s where he became concerned, finding a difference in numbers reported.

“The State of Oklahoma is saying we’ve done 11,198 tests, yet the CDC is showing we’ve only done 6,880,” Monks said. “We were the last state in the nation to identify the alpha variant and we were the next to last state in the nation to identify omicron so something is not working.”

Monks believes the discrepancy is actually larger because the CDC number represents data from all labs, not just the state health lab, impacting the information Oklahomans get and when.

“The CDC put out information that in our region on December 20th, 92% of cases were omicron and yet the Oklahoma Pandemic Center still hasn’t found a single case of omicron,” said Monks. “The first case was identified by an outside lab. Which makes me think there’s no variant testing taking place at the Oklahoma Pandemic Center testing facility.”

Monks believes most new cases of COVID-19 now in Oklahoma are likely omicron.

He says identifying these variants can have a major impact on your treatment should you get a positive test.

“There’s only one monoclonal antibody that works against omicron so we’ve actually had to shift from the other monoclonal antibody treatments to the other one for our treatment,” Monks said.

Keith Reed, Interim Commissioner of Health, issued this statement:

“We are deeply disappointed that the Oklahoma State Medical Association would attempt to discredit the hard work of the public health staff through misinformation and uninformed opinions. The claims by their spokesperson on the December 27th report on KFOR were blatantly inaccurate and appeared designed to create distrust in our public health lab. They appear to suggest the CDC has a better understanding of what’s happening on the ground in our state than we do. Regardless of what CDC currently reports, there have been more than 11,000 sequencing tests completed for Oklahoma.  We are working with the CDC to clarify the discrepancy, but their discrepancy doesn’t undo the hard work that has occurred thus far.

Further, our public health lab has identified omicron in the state, including 4 cases last week which followed our announcement of the initial case. We fully expect that number to rapidly rise. And lastly, the claim that CDC is reporting 92% of cases in our region are omicron is inaccurate and missing a key piece of information. That claim is a projection only. It is based on CDC modeling (NOWCAST) of variant testing around the country and the anticipated rate of spread. It is in fact, attempting to compensate for the fact that variant testing is always a reflection of what has occurred in the past. It does not mean that 92% of all sequencing completed currently are omicron. Further, to be accurate, the current projection for our region which includes all of Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and New Mexico is 86.7%. This number may or may not accurately reflect Oklahoma cases.  

We have been in contact with OSMA to assist in their understanding of COVID sequencing data, and hope that such miscommunications can be avoided moving forward.  We are constantly striving to be as transparent as possible, giving Oklahomans an accurate landscape of COVID, so that they can make informed decisions for themselves and their families.”

Copyright 2022 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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