The Oklahoma State Department of Health announced in an email this week that it will no longer be able to publish COVID-19 data by city, zip code, or long-term care and nursing home facility.
As first reported by Oklahoma Watch, OSDH will continue reporting active and recovered COVID-19 cases by county only.
According to OSDH’s email, the agency can’t continue publishing more detailed statistics because the state’s catastrophic emergency declaration expired on May 31. OSDH and Gov. Kevin Stitt’s office are exploring other legal opinions and solutions “to ensure the public, the medical community, and elected leaders can access relevant COVID-19 data that will allow for quick and effective decision-making while Oklahoma awaits a treatment or vaccine to mute the novel virus.”
Norman Mayor Breea Clark said in a Tweet that the state agency’s change was “unacceptable.”
“We’re still in a pandemic,” the Tweet read. “How are we supposed to determine if we can continue moving forward with opening our cities if we don’t have the data? @HealthyOklahoma needs to work with @GovStitt so cities can continue to have this vital information. #covid19 #localgov.”
Unacceptable. We’re still in a pandemic. How are we supposed to determine if we can continue moving forward with opening our cities if we don’t have the data? @HealthyOklahoma needs to work with @GovStitt so cities can continue to have this vital information. #covid19 #localgov https://t.co/qz3KWejakI— Mayor Breea Clark (@clarkfornorman) June 1, 2020
Among others critical of the change, Oklahoma City Councilmember Nikki Nice said in a Tweet that “we actually need this data to gauge our communities.”
We actually need this data to gauge our communities 😒 https://t.co/7C1YBa9FTD— Nikki Nice (@NikkiNiceOKC) June 2, 2020
The State Legislature first granted Stitt’s request for a catastrophic emergency health declaration April 7, according to the email, and the declaration was later extended until the end of May.
According to OSDH data, before the agency stopped reporting city and nursing home data May 30, the number of COVID-19 cases in Norman had continued to climb. One new case in Norman was reported on May 29, and there were 242 total cases in the city — up from 229 cases on May 22.
There were 126 COVID-19 cases reported in Norman nursing homes May 29, and that number had remained consistent for more than a week.
According to the email, the declaration allowed Stitt to redirect state agency resources and state employee efforts in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as activate the Oklahoma National Guard when needed. While the declaration was in place, Stitt waived statutory requirements to allow for “more granular reporting of COVID-19 data to support rapid decision making at local levels on the response to COVID-19.”
Since the catastrophic emergency declaration went into effect, according to the email, the number of Oklahomans in the hospital for COVID-19 has declined by roughly 65 percent, the weekly rate of coronavirus-related deaths has declined by 56 percent and the percentage of positive cases has declined to an “all-time low" of 3.7 percent.
“OSDH will continue to publish daily the most recent active and recovered COVID-19 cases by county,” OSDH Communications Director Kristin Davis said in the email. “The State’s infrastructure is in a much stronger position for continuing to address the presence of the novel coronavirus, and the core purpose of the emergency declaration is no longer needed. At the same time, Governor Kevin Stitt and (Oklahoma Commissioner of Health) Lance Frye continue their shared commitment to transparency and availability of critical COVID-19 data. They have tasked the State’s legal experts to explore other options for providing critical health data that would support all stakeholders’ decision-making during the presence of COVID-19, while also safeguarding Oklahomans’ protected health information.”
Stitt has often touted the quality of state COVID-19 data, saying that data on the OSDH website has received an A-plus from “national groups” for its transparency and level of detail in a May 14 press conference.
According to the email, while some data adjustments will be made, OSDH will continue to issue daily media advisories with cumulative statewide COVID-19 data, as well as publish the COVID-19 dashboard, Stitt’s daily executive order report and the weekly epidemiology report.
This article was updated at 11:16 a.m. June 3 to replace the original picture with a picture of Norman Mayor Breea Clark at a Norman event mourning lives lost to COVID-19.