In the past two months, Oklahoma children ages 5 to 14 have outpaced all the other age groups in new COVID-19 case rates, but state officials say it’s more important to note that the entire state population is currently seeing high infection rates.

A Tulsa World analysis found that the 5-14 age group has experienced 85% growth in the rate of new cases per 100,000 population since early October.

COVID-19 case rates in that age group increased from 1,009 per 100,000 population the week ending Oct. 8 to 1,869 per 100,000 the week ending Nov. 19.

By comparison, the next oldest age group, those ages 15 to 24, has seen a 59% jump in the new case rates, or from 3,667 per 100,000 to 5,833 per 100,000 population.

Despite the range in case rate increases among age groups, the state Health Department cautioned against focusing on just one sector of the population when looking at infection growth rates.

"There are many factors that could contribute to increases or decreases in infection rates, making it difficult to speculate as to why we are seeing trends within age groups,” said Derek Pate, Health Department spokesperson. “The important thing to note is that we're seeing a high rate of infection in the population across all age groups.

“It's imperative that Oklahomans remain vigilant and continue to protect themselves, their families and their communities by wearing a mask, washing their hands and watching their distance."

The Health Department said that the differences in infection rates seen across the age groups are generally minor and likely reflect very few, if any, scientifically meaningful differences.

Still, the numbers prompted alarm from State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister, despite being made aware of the caveats about the numbers from the state Health Department.

“The spike in pediatric cases is very alarming to us, particularly because the numbers had been comparatively low until mid-October,” Hofmeister said in a statement. “The OSDE has been periodically posting the numbers of cases in the 5-17 age cohort to help underscore the need for all Oklahomans to stay vigilant.

“We need schools to be open, and that happens through mitigating the spread of the virus. The rise in pediatric cases reminds us that, while most children with COVID are asymptomatic, they do get infected and they do transmit it.“

Overall, the 15-24 age group accounts for the largest COVID-19 infection rates in the state with 5,833 cases recorded per 100,000 population the week ending Nov. 19, according to data from the state Health Department.

While the 15-24 age group has the largest number of confirmed COVID-19 cases and case rates, it has one of the lowest death rates at 0.4 per 100,000 population.

Only one person in the 5 to 14 year old age group has died, making for a death rate of 0.2 per 100,000 population.

The highest death rate is among the 85 and older age group. The 428 who were aged 85 or older represented a death rate of 584.7 per 100,000 people.

While it encourages mask wearing, the State Board of Education has refused to impose a statewide mask requirement in schools.

Correction: This story originally misreported the entity responsible for the failed vote to impose a statewide mask mandate. The story has been corrected.

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