State Health Department Changes How It Calculates Average COVID Cases, Significantly Lowering What Metric Shows | State and Area News

Two years into the pandemic, the Oklahoma State Department of Health changed the way it calculates its seven-day average of new COVID-19 cases, significantly reducing reported numbers from what they would have been with the previous methodology.

The seven-day average would be 373 per day from Thursday if the method used for calculations over the past two years was still in use. But using the state’s new method, the average was reported Thursday at 95.

Previously, the state Health Department’s seven-day average was based on all positive test results received in the previous seven days, regardless of when the test was taken. Under the new methodology, only cases where tests were performed and results were received within the same seven-day period are used to determine the average.

Thus, positive COVID tests that are slow to reach the Department of Health no longer count in the seven-day averages.

It might sound like these lagging numbers aren’t being tracked, but the Department of Health keeps track of all positive test results received and still reports the cumulative total of positive cases in Oklahoma. The Tulsa World determined the seven-day average using the old methodology by subtracting last week’s running total of cases from this week’s and dividing that number by seven.

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Dr. Dale Bratzler, COVID director at the University of Oklahoma and one of many health officials who have regularly provided important information to the public about the evolution of the pandemic, said the new methodology presents ” most definitely… an underestimate of the true number” of daily new cases.

“I think the actual number of new cases per day is probably somewhere between the number I found using the consistent methodology and just looking at cumulative cases and the number they’re using now which only reports tests reported in the last week.”

Erica Rankin-Riley, spokeswoman for the state Health Department, said the new method will “slightly underreport” the average but is “more accurate” than using cumulative numbers. She acknowledged that home COVID testing is already not accounted for in state data.

Dr. Mary Clarke, president of the Oklahoma State Medical Association, said her group was “a bit disappointed” that the state is moving to a method that significantly lowers its new case average.

Giving the impression that COVID is over is a disservice to patients down the road when another variant is expected to appear at some point, Clarke said. She said the change provided a certain false sense of security when the state was not yet out of the woods.

“If we accidentally overestimated these cases, then that’s fine,” Clarke said. “But what’s happening is we’re underestimating the cases and we seem to be doing better than us – and that’s not good.”

The change in the state Department of Health comes at the same time as it moved to reporting COVID data only on a weekly basis instead of daily.

Rankin-Riley said the widespread availability of home testing means positive cases are missing from state numbers, which is why the state Health Department and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are putting more focus on hospitalizations and surveillance systems.

“As with all attempts to report real-time COVID data, there is no perfect system,” Rankin-Riley wrote in response to questions. “Delayed reports from multiple sources will always limit our ability to provide perfect data. However, this method is a much closer approximation to today’s reality.”

The state’s most recent number of weekly cases per 100,000 population was 59 per day, which was tied for 22nd in the United States, according to federal data. The case rate hasn’t been this low since July – and the lowest was 15 per 100,000 a day in May.

The state’s recent three-day average of COVID hospitalizations released Thursday was 262, with 65 — or 25% — in intensive care units. The total number is down 51% from 530 two weeks ago and down 88% from the record 2,243 hospitalized patients recorded on January 28.

COVID hospitalizations haven’t been this low in Oklahoma since July, when the delta variant began to spread. The lowest COVID hospitalizations since the start were 106, reported on June 10.

The three-day average of Tulsa County COVID hospitalizations was 74 Thursday, with 30, or 41%, in ICUs. The county is down 50% from 148 two weeks ago and down 86% from its record high of 548 reported on Jan. 29.

Bratzler said epidemiological models show the number of cases could be rising — and may already be a little higher — but experts don’t expect a huge increase, as happened with the delta and omicron variants. .

“The only unknown variable is always: will there be a new variant that escapes the protection you get from a previous infection or from being vaccinated?” said Bratzler.

Featured video: Oklahoma health commissioner clarifies changes to COVID reporting

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