Tulsa County residents now can monitor COVID-19’s presence by ZIP code to better inform their decisions on what the hazard is where they live or venture locally.
The Tulsa Health Department launched its own color-coded risk map Monday that is based on active cases in individual ZIP codes. The map portrays the risk in four categories: low (green), moderate (yellow), high (orange) and severe (red).
No ZIP codes are currently in the red category, but 12 are orange. The map, which will be updated weekly, shows 29 ZIP codes in yellow and one in green.
Bruce Dart, THD executive director, said the most spread based on THD’s heat map and ZIP code map is in the southern part of the community. But the virus is everywhere, he said.
“I think it’s gratifying that we have more yellow ZIP codes than orange, and of course none that are red, which tells us good things are happening and people are coming together — let’s fight this together — and that seems to be happening here.
“I think that’s really a positive thing, but if you look at the map, the city of Tulsa is doing quite well. You start getting outside the city of Tulsa, you start see more cases. So people have to be cognizant of where they’re at, and I still recommend that our suburbs do mask mandates as well.”
Adhering to the three Ws — wear a mask, wash your hands, watch your distance — applies to each color. THD’s brief synopses for what each color represents is — Green: resume normal activity; Yellow: stay vigilant; Orange: minimize contacts; Red: Stay home.
Green signifies a minimal and controlled level of spread, with yellow also considered controlled but at a moderate level. Orange is an ongoing high level of spread, while red means outbreaks are present and worsening amid severe and uncontrolled spread.
There is one gray ZIP code for which there aren’t enough residents to do a rate without possibly violating HIPAA, Dart said. More detailed descriptions, along with specific guidance for each color, can be found online with the map at tulsa-health.org/tulsa-county-covid-19-data.
Monica Rogers, division chief of data and technology for THD, built the map using active cases, similar to methodology used by Johns Hopkins University. Cases are considered active for 14 days after a positive test, which she said more accurately depicts day-to-day risk than other metrics.
“If I know the ZIP code I live in and the risk in the neighborhood, I might alter my decision-making to not go shopping or out to dinner or another social gathering that has a higher risk profile,” Rogers explained earlier this month to the Tulsa World. “So that can help me geographically inform the decisions in my life.”
Dart said he felt there was a need to provide local hazard assessments based on local data while also clearing up confusion created by conflicting maps from the federal and state governments.
The White House Coronavirus Task Force’s weekly report has one-third of Oklahoma counties in the red zone for high rates of spread, while the governor’s weekly alert system shows moderate risk or less across every Oklahoma county.
State health officials acknowledged Sept. 4 that moderate risk is essentially the upper limit on the state’s alert system for public use because the red high-risk category is meant as a warning sign for the governor. The state originally pitched the map to the public in July as akin to a county-level weather warning system to guide behavior and provide a tool for people and local leaders to use.
Dart pointed to timeliness issues with the state and federal metrics.
Before a recent change, the state used the date of symptom onset, not the date of the positive lab report, in its alert system. Dart said that could create a reporting lag time of several days from when symptoms appear to getting a test and receiving those results.
The White House reports are released Wednesdays by the state. They are dated the preceding Sunday and are based on data the week leading up to that Friday. The metrics used are test positivity and weekly new cases per capita.
“I don’t really care what occurred last week; I want to know what’s happening right now,” Dart previously said. “Our data we gather daily, so we know what’s happening right now.”
The Oklahoma State Board of Education built its own county-level map to inform and guide school districts, using the governor’s COVID-19 Alert System but deviating in multiple respects.
The board’s map uses only county case rates — no regional or state metrics like the governor’s map — to determine each county’s threat level. Additionally, the orange moderate level designation was split in two to make five levels: green, yellow, orange 1, orange 2 and red.
Dart said THD’s map might be especially helpful for schools to know what’s happening in their respective footprints, not just the county as a whole.
Note: The map, at www.tulsa-health.org/tulsa-county-covid-19-data, is best viewed on a desktop computer.</&h5>
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