The Oklahoma State Department of Health’s abrupt end of publicly releasing city- and ZIP code-level COVID-19 data ought to be reversed.
City leaders were caught unaware of this change last week, taking away critical information when making policies and recommendations for public health.
It’s frustrated physicians and health care workers needing the data when speaking to patients about the virus and vaccine.
Many Tulsa residents looked at the the City-County Health Department’s ZIP code alert map. It was helpful for decisions such as suggestions for mask wearing. The map can no longer be updated.
The agency said the shift was part of revamping its website to reflect the “standard way of reporting” data, which is at the county and state levels, according to a story from reporter Corey Jones.
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For this moment, COVID-19 is not like other types of data being tracked by the state Health Department.
Currently, the virus is causing about 70,000 new cases daily among Americans, with about 787 daily of those in Oklahoma. It now kills about 1,100 each day in the U.S., including about 22 deaths daily in the state.
Knowing exactly where those cases are popping up helps local officials know where to target their efforts.
As Sand Springs City Manager Mike Carter noted, people need the most specific and accurate information to make decisions about their health:
“As we’ve seen the ups and downs that have happened, I think it’s had an impact on people — being able to see the data. I kind of agree with the governor in that a lot of this is personal responsibility, so I think having the information out there helps people make those informed decisions.”
It’s common sense; people cannot make the best decisions if they don’t have all the information.
Pandemic data have been showing downward trends in Oklahoma, but it’s not over. If there are surges, people need to know where those are located.
For urban areas, county-level data in the pandemic isn’t much help. It’s impossible to tell whether trends are in one of the smaller municipalities, urban core or spread across the county.
Until the pandemic has been downgraded, everyone must be vigilant about mitigating outbreaks. To do this, the state Health Department needs to be transparent and return to releasing city- and ZIP code-level COVID-19 data.
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