Eight days after the state Health Department stopped reporting COVID-19 data at the city level — and after pushback from journalists and municipal officials, including Sand Springs City Manager Mike Carter — the department has done an about-face.
The Oklahoma State Department of Health announced Thursday that it was releasing updates to the state’s COVID-19 data reporting, including community-level data on cases and vaccinations that are now more-easily accessible.
“We recognize the importance of on-going community-level data for Oklahomans to make decisions,” interim Health Commissioner Keith Reed said in a news release.
“As our response has evolved OSDH has worked through updating COVID-19 reporting tools to continue to provide accessible data.
“After receiving additional feedback, we have further updated our reporting tools to ensure information is available to Oklahomans as needed,” he said.
“Our number one priority is to protect the health and safety of Oklahomans and empowering individuals to make informed decisions about their personal health.”
That turnabout has made Carter very happy.
“I thank the OSDH commissioner and staff for their consideration in giving the public access to this important data,” he said.
“I also think the new format works well, and I know many people across the state appreciate their hard work to keep us safe during this pandemic.”
For more than a year prior to the data cutoff, Carter had compiled a regular COVID-19 report based on local data that he shared with community leaders and government officials in other Tulsa suburbs.
That data is far more valuable to officials and residents alike in smaller communities, who can’t really extrapolate from countywide data how things are faring in their own communities.
Carter has said his reports have helped guide broader municipal policies as well as individual decisions, even leading some residents to change their minds and get vaccinated against the virus.
He said the state’s reversal “allows us to communicate the current status of COVID in Sand Springs. That helps us protect people at special events and empower them to make good decisions in regard to protective measures such as getting vaccinated.”
State governments aren’t frequently known for changing their minds, but the decision to do so this time gives Carter faith that Oklahoma officials care.
“It shows me that they are seeking to do the right thing,” he said. “They showed that they care about empowering the citizens in a way to help end the pandemic.”
Carter said he knew of no workaround to get the data that the state briefly withheld.
“I do not think there would be any way around it, so I am appreciative that they are helping keep our citizens informed,” he said. “Knowledge is power.”
On Friday, a day after the state announced its reconsideration, Carter once again informed his community of its current status with regard to COVID-19.
“The OSDH has started to release city specific data again, and I am appreciative of their efforts,” he wrote in an email to municipal leaders and others.
The data — covering the expanded period of Nov. 3-19 — show an increase of 340 active cases and 41 additional deaths across the Tulsa metro area.
In Sand Springs, deaths increased by three, bringing the city’s COVID death toll to 107.
The city’s current infection count is 86, an increase of 20 over the previous reporting period, the data show.
Deaths increased during the reporting period in all but three of the 10 Tulsa metro-area municipalities. Infections also increased in seven of the 10 municipalities, the data show.
Sand Springs’ total infection rate — the number of residents who have had COVID at any point in the pandemic — is 26.52%, or more than one in every four people, which ranks third in the metropolitan area behind Collinsville, at 53.71%, and Skiatook, at 32.97%.
But Sand Springs leads the way in the percentage of residents infected with COVID-19 who have died from it — more than 2%.
More than one-half of 1% of all Sand Springs residents have died from COVID since the pandemic began, the data show.
Meanwhile, Carter reported that Hillcrest Healthcare System recorded 34 COVID-related hospitalizations, with 31 of those patients being unvaccinated.
Hillcrest also reported 11 cases requiring ICU care, with all 11of those patients being unvaccinated.
The reconfigured state Health Department data can be found here: oklahoma.gov/covid19/community-data.html.