The state is struggling to track and report new positive COVID-19 cases because they’re using an antiquated system not designed for a pandemic, Oklahoma health officials said Tuesday.
Dr. Lance Frye, the state’s interim commissioner of public health, said his agency “uncovered” a backlog of 820 new positive COVID-19 cases that weren’t identified publicly yet.
Factoring in the 894 new cases also reported Tuesday, the number of positive COVID-19 cases jumped by 1,714. Health officials reported nine additional deaths and a total of 613 hospitalizations.
Frye acknowledged that the State Department of Health has experienced technical issues for three straight days, but said he couldn’t predict whether those would be ongoing.
“We hope that the updates that we’ve been making will help the system,” he said. “We knew that we were basically patching it for now until we could get a new system in. We just didn’t know that while we were doing this, we would have these additional problems. They do have it back up and running today, and hopefully it’ll stay that way.”
Frye said the agency hired a company to build a patch for its “antiquated system” until it can use federal coronavirus relief funds to get a new one. He said Tuesday he wants that new system installed “yesterday.”
“We recognize the significant challenges we’ve experienced with outdated systems, and are working to modernize processes and incorporate new technology to streamline operations and improve critical customer services during the pandemic,” he said.
Last week, officials said the health agency is dealing with “outdated data systems” that are dependent on “fax machines and manual data entry.”
The challenges led to inconsistencies in movement of test data between health departments, clinics and laboratories, officials said.
“We have needed a technical solution since well before the pandemic,” said Travis Kirkpatrick, the deputy commissioner of prevention and preparedness, last week. “The backlog we’ve experienced as the state has increased its testing capability has given us the opportunity to incorporate immediate fixes while moving toward developing a permanent solution.”
Frye said the existing system crashed several times over the past week. When officials ran a sweep to make sure no cases were still sitting there, they discovered the 820 cases.
Frye said he didn’t know how old the cases were. He said it doesn’t mean that the people who tested positive for COVID-19 were never notified.
“The backlog reported today is not indicative of our efforts to communicate directly to confirmed cases,” he said.
Gov. Kevin Stitt, who is quarantining at home after testing positive for COVID-19, said Oklahoma is starting to see its number of positive cases plateau.
Still, he said the state has modified its COVID-19 surge capacity plans and is partnering with hospitals in the Oklahoma City and Tulsa metro areas to increase the number of flex beds in case they’re needed.
The new expansion plan will allow hospitals to continue offering elective surgeries, he said. Stitt said if hospitals reach capacity, he can limit non-emergent surgeries again, but he doesn’t want to get to that point.
Stitt instead urged the public to take proactive measures to protect their neighbors like washing their hands frequently and wearing a face mask when it’s difficult to social distance.
House Minority Leader Emily Virgin, D-Norman, said her caucus still has questions about hospital staffing and the backlog of COVID-19 data.
The Democratic caucus has asked for clarification on both issues, she said.