COVID cases are surging more than data shows, says Tulsa-based expert local news

For several weeks, charts showing Oklahoma’s growing number of COVID cases also show that these infections are found almost exclusively in emergency rooms.


for dr David Kendrick, CEO of Tulsa-based My Health Data Network, means that “we’re likely to be missing a lot of COVID positives and only include the more severe symptomatic infections in the data.”

The surge in COVID-19 cases, both visible and invisible, has prompted public health leaders to push vaccination as the best way to avoid the type of infection that requires hospital treatment. The Tulsa Department of Health announced preparations for the administration of Novavax on Monday, which are expected to be available this week.

“This is another COVID-19 vaccine option that may be more attractive to individuals who are reluctant to receive an RNA vaccine,” said Priscilla Haynes, department head of preventive health services at the Tulsa Department of Health.

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Novavax will be the only protein-based vaccine of four options for those seeking protection from COVID-19. Doses for Oklahomans are expected to be “available before August 1,” according to the Tulsa Department of Health and Human Services statement Monday.

“Vaccines are the best way to protect yourself from vaccine-preventable diseases, and we know that getting your COVID-19 vaccine will reduce serious illness, hospitalizations and deaths from COVID-19,” Haynes said.

For Tulsa County residents, the average number of COVID-19 hospitalizations has nearly tripled since late May, according to an analysis of the latest state data. About 43% of Tulsa County’s COVID-19 patients who required hospital care were in intensive care units, the data shows.

But that doesn’t apply to less severe and asymptomatic cases, Kendrick said. Determining the level of transmissibility in Oklahoma can be difficult because so many infections are detected by home testing and the health care system is never called upon, he reiterated Thursday.

“I suspect the number of cases in the community is much higher than estimated… but because we have so many home tests and only the sickest people are tested in a clinical setting, it creates an apparent discrepancy in the data. ‘ he said a week earlier in his COVID-19 update.

Another data gap lies in the positivity rate, which has hovered around 27-28% in recent weeks, reflecting how little testing is done in clinical settings, Kendrick said.

“The most worrying thing is how many cases we are missing and therefore the reservoir of ongoing viral replication that could produce the next variant,” he said.

The viral reservoir can be thought of as the rate at which COVID-19 makes a copy of itself, and “that’s where the next delta variant is going to come, the next omicron is going to come,” Kendrick said.

“As long as we have trillions of virus replications on a regular basis – and this virus can mutate a lot more than we originally thought – we will end up only leading the continued endemicity of the virus to additional mutations that become dominant strains,” said Dr. Stan Schwartz, CEO of WellOK and the Northeastern Oklahoma Business Coalition on Health.

One of the tools used to monitor the virus reservoir is wastewater monitoring. In Oklahoma, sewage samples tested for COVID-19 show lower levels of community transmission than indicated by the still-rising positivity rate. Kendrick said it’s important to continue and even expand these surveillance efforts to get more helpful data going forward in the pandemic.

“It’s almost a mathematical fact that… based on a roll of the dice, we’re going to get one bad line, another bad line that comes up,” Kendrick said.

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