OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Oklahoma is making a number of changes to how it reports coronavirus data and expects an increase in the number of confirmed positive cases as a result, health officials said Friday.
Among the changes are that positive results from rapid antigen tests will now be counted as positive cases. Previously, positive results from antigen tests were considered "probable" and were treated the same by the Department of Health in terms of contact tracing and investigation, but were not included in the daily case count, said Oklahoma Health Commissioner Dr. Lance Frye.
"In the past, there were very few antigen tests and the ones that were out there were not that good, frankly," Frye said. "The new machines are better."
Frye said more than 200 antigen machines and testing kits are being deployed to Oklahoma nursing homes, and that more will be deployed to schools by the end of the year.
The agency is also adjusting how it calculates Oklahoma's positivity rate by ensuring that each person who tests positive is counted only once and that "repeat positives" are eliminated from the formula, Frye added.
The state is upgrading its coronavirus tracking and reporting system through a new partnership with Google to reduce the time between a positive lab result and investigation, and allow health officials to more quickly identify potential outbreaks.
The changes will be reflected in the state's data reporting beginning on Tuesday, Frye said.
Dr. George Monks, the head of the Oklahoma State Medical Association, praised agency officials for the changes, particularly the inclusion of antigen test results, saying he expects improvements in both the quality and accuracy of state reporting.
"As these (antigen) tests become more widely used throughout Oklahoma, the information they provide could help more quickly identify those who have been exposed to coronavirus," Monks said. "These results will be instrumental in helping slow the spread throughout densely populated areas such as schools, colleges and nursing homes, where quick identification of the disease can save countless lives."
Health officials on Friday reported an additional 1,103 confirmed cases of the coronavirus and 11 more deaths, bringing the total number of confirmed cases in the state to 62,040 and the death toll to 846. The actual number of cases in Oklahoma is likely higher because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected and not feel sick.
For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and a cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.