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Color-coded COVID maps? Oklahomans can take their pick of versions

Color-coded COVID maps? Oklahomans can take their pick of versions


Oklahoma residents can take their choice of color-coded systems that gauge COVID-19 conditions for each county, with each one having a distinctly different view of the hazard.

A weekly White House task force report paints one-third of the state as experiencing high levels of spread, while the governor’s weekly alert system depicts moderate risk or less across the entirety of Oklahoma.

State health officials acknowledged Sept. 4 in a meeting with journalists that moderate risk is essentially the upper limit on the state’s alert system for public use, so new normal (green), low (yellow) and moderate (orange) are the levels with corresponding guidance.

Interim Health Commissioner Lance Frye referred to the high-risk (red) category as a warning sign for state health officials to use to inform Gov. Kevin Stitt that he might want to take additional action if reached.

However, that wasn’t how the alert system originally was pitched to Oklahomans.

At the map’s unveiling on July 9, Frye described it as similar to a county-level weather warning system to guide behaviors. He said the risk assessment map would empower people to make wise decisions and provide a tool for local leaders to use.

So is the governor’s COVID-19 Alert System more for the state government or for residents of Oklahoma?

“We developed it initially for people to use in communities, but it’s a great tool for us to use, as well,” Frye said. “So that’s why we came up with that red piece from the very beginning. We’ve had it all along, but that was really for us to try to use as a warning system for us.”

Previously, public health officials in Oklahoma had called the state’s alert system unhelpful in part because it failed to use local or regional hospital data to pair with the county new case rates for its high-risk designation.

The state on Friday launched a portion of its revamped COVID-19 alert map that now relies on regional rather than statewide hospital data as the gate for a county to enter the red, or high-risk, category. The map’s legend contains the updated trigger points, but the map itself remains defined by county and not hospital region.

All other colors of the map are based on each individual county’s seven-day rolling average of new cases per capita.

The White House Coronavirus Task Force has privately produced weekly state-level reports since June 29 that assess COVID-19 spread in each county.

In contrast to the state’s risk map, the task force’s most recent report places 24 counties and seven metro areas in the red zone for high levels of virus spread. The yellow zone, for moderate spread, has 26 counties and 10 municipalities.

The latest report continues to recommend that bars be closed and that indoor dining be restricted to 25% of capacity in red zones and 50% of capacity in yellow zones.

The state didn’t share the task force reports with local government or public heath leaders and didn’t post them publicly until Aug. 24 after fielding questions about them when the nonprofit newsroom Center for Public Integrity publicly released some it had acquired.

The Sept. 6 report lists Oklahoma as No. 4 in the country for highest test-positivity rate, as well ninth highest for new weekly cases per capita.

Oklahoma has been in the task force’s red zone since July 14, whereas no county has reached the red level on Stitt’s map since its inception.

A third option for schools

The Oklahoma State Board of Education built its own county-level map to inform school districts, deviating in multiple respects from the governor’s COVID-19 Alert System.

The board uses only each county’s new-case rate to determine the county’s threat level, not any regional or state metrics. Additionally, the orange level was split into two shades to denote a moderate level and moderate-plus level.

The new-case rate is the seven-day rolling average for each county, which is the same calculation the state’s alert system uses for its green, yellow and orange categories.


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Corey Jones


Twitter: @JonesingToWrite

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Staff Writer

I am a general assignment reporter who predominately writes about public health, public safety and justice reform. I'm in journalism to help make this community, state, country and, ultimately, world a better place.

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