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Report highly critical of Oklahoma's COVID-19 contact tracing

Report highly critical of Oklahoma's COVID-19 contact tracing

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Dr. Lance Frye, Oklahoma State Commissioner of Health, acknowledged a new report’s criticism of the state’s contact tracing efforts. But he also said it would be premature to evaluate the state’s overall COVID-19 response based on the findings in the report.

OKLAHOMA CITY — A report released Thursday is highly critical of the Oklahoma State Department of Health’s COVID-19 contact tracing efforts.

The Legislative Office of Fiscal Transparency on Thursday released its report.

The report found that the agency’s contact tracing and case investigation was limited and insufficient.

Contact tracing failed to keep pace with the growing spread and exposure of COVID-19, the report said.

“As of the date of this report, contact tracing data is still not publicly available on any state published COVID-19 report or dashboard,” the report said.

“According to leaders from the OSDH, the department was collecting contact tracing data and was in the process of creating a separate dashboard in the fall of 2020. However, as stated by OSDH in January 2021, those plans were abandoned by OSDH due to the focus on vaccine distribution.”

Data provided by the state was either lacking in substance, withheld, misaligned or never developed for public consumption, the report said.

The report said data collected by the State Department of Education was sent to OSDH, but OSDH did not report it on its weekly alert system or in epidemiology or surveillance reports.

“This is a vital data point that the public needed to formulate effective data-driven policy responses to COVID-19 and school instruction,” the report said. “School closures and transition to virtual learning ultimately impacts not only student learning, but also employers and families.

“Having publicly accessible and accurate data available to Oklahoma’s education community would have assisted parents and families in making decisions for their students and could have resulted in more efficient policy responses to COVID-19 and school instruction.”

The report also cited a failure to update the Public Health Investigation and Disease Oklahoma system, which provides communicable disease reporting and is used by all health departments in the state.

The system was identified as at risk in 2009 during a much lesser pandemic, but replacing it did not become a priority until COVID-19, the report said.

Often, health departments got information from the system too late to have an impact on mitigating the virus, the report said.

The agency spent nearly $7 million on contact tracing from June through Dec. 31, although the project was originally allocated $55 million in coronavirus relief funds. Only $1.79 million in those funds were used for contact tracing.

The state received $1.2 billion in coronavirus relief funds.

The Oklahoma State Department of Health only invested 0.1% of the state’s portion of coronavirus relief funds into the contact tracing program, the report said.

“No doubt there were a multitude of challenges with contact tracing in Oklahoma, the United States and throughout the world over the course of the COVID-19 response,” said Health Commissioner Dr. Lance Frye. “Experts have noted that by May 2020, contact tracing cases were overwhelmed in the United States due to rising cases.

“Contact tracing is only one of many aspects to mitigating a pandemic like COVID-19. To evaluate the state’s response based entirely on contact tracing ignores key components of our multi-faceted public health response.”

Frye said the pandemic further highlighted existing needs, especially with technology.

The agency’s data infrastructure and contact tracing capabilities are among the agency’s top priorities for improvement, Frye said.

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Dr. Lance Frye and Gov. Kevin Stitt spoke March 11 about a bill passed by the state House that would give the governor control over local health departments.

Q&A: State vaccination portal help and other guidance as most Oklahomans now eligible

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