Fact check: Oklahoma Department of Health did not plan a ‘spike’ in COVID-19 cases

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Camille Caldera, NewsyBag
Published 9:20 p.m. ET Sept. 26, 2020 | Updated 9:20 p.m. ET Sept. 26, 2020

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The claim: The Oklahoma Dept. of Health planned a spike in cases of COVID-19.

An email from an employee of the Oklahoma State Department of Health spread on social media along with allegations that the state orchestrated a sharp increase in cases of COVID-19.

The post — from the page Purposefully NOT Politically Correct — claims that the email “announced a planned spike in Covid numbers for next week for Oklahoma.”

“The ‘spike’ conveniently coincides with the beginning of school. It also comes as Covid numbers have continued to decrease at a rapid rate,” the post reads. “Those behind this manipulation are well aware it will cause fear and concern in the community — and potentially compel parents to pull their children from school or provide the momentum for superintendents to close schools.

“It also creates the perfect backdrop for the Democrat’s desperate demand to shut down in-person voting and force mail-in ballots,” the post explains. “Be aware, this is a planned and calculated spike based on fraudulent numbers.”

The page did not respond to a request from NewsyBag for comment.

More: Coronavirus Watch: Why your kid won’t likely get a COVID-19 vaccine for a while

Email explained a change in the state’s reporting system

In reality, the message circulated by the Oklahoma State Health Department contained no evidence of a planned spike in cases. 

Rather, the email — sent by Maria Alexander, a regional director — warned county commissioners about how a new reporting system might elevate the number of cases that a state website indicated in their counties.

“Just to let you know over the next week, the OSDH website will be reporting an increase in the COVID numbers in most counties due to the report will be including ‘probable’ COVID cases in addition to actual positive cases as confirmed by test results. This will increase local county Covid numbers overnight. However these cases may be cases which date as far as March,” Alexander wrote.

“However, since the increase will appear overnight and may cause your community some concern and some questions for you, I just wanted you to be aware,” she added.

More: When will children get a COVID-19 vaccine? It’s going to be a while

Rob Crissinger, a spokesperson for the Oklahoma State Department of Health, explained the reason behind the change in the reporting system in an email to NewsyBag.

Previously, the Oklahoma State Department of Health defined “confirmed COVID-19 positive case” as an individual diagnosed with a positive PCR test.

In contrast, “positive results achieved through antigen testing have been categorized as ‘probable’ and not included in the daily case count,” Crissinger wrote.

But as “the accuracy and confidence in various methods of COVID-19 testing have improved,” the White House has directed more of its resources toward antigen tests. That includes a program to deploy antigen testing kits to all nursing homes and long-term care facilities in Oklahoma throughout September.

More: Rapid, cheap home tests: Companies attempt to make coronavirus tests widely available

“The White House’s action, coupled with increased demand, has prompted Oklahoma to begin reporting positive COVID-19 cases from both the antigen and PCR tests in its daily public reporting,” Crissinger wrote.

The change only impacts the number of reported confirmed cases. It has no impact on the corresponding health recommendations.

“Since the beginning of the pandemic, OSDH has always treated probable and confirmed cases the same when it comes to investigation, recommendations for quarantine and contract tracing,” Crissinger wrote.

In-person voting remains an option

Contrary to the viral posts’ suggestion that a spike in cases of coronavirus will fuel a “demand to shut down in person voting,” in-person voting is still an option in all 50 states.

While some states have shifted or consolidated traditional polling places into vote centers or election offices, voting in person is still possible nationwide, according to FiveThirtyEight.

And so far in Oklahoma, no plans to close polling places have been announced.

Our rating: False

Based on our research, the claim that the Oklahoma Department of Health planned a spike in cases of COVID-19 is FALSE. In reality, officials altered the reporting system to include both positive PCR and positive antigen tests in their list of confirmed cases of COVID-19. The email in the viral post was intended to warn county commissioners of the change so that they would not mistake the uptick in reported cases for an actual spike.

Our fact-check sources:

  • Email from Maria Alexander, regional director of the  Oklahoma State Department of Health
  • Email from Rob Crissinger, spokesperson for the Oklahoma State Department of Health
  • FiveThirtyEight, Sept. 11, How To Vote In The 2020 Election

Thank you for supporting our journalism. You can subscribe to our print edition, ad-free app or electronic newspaper replica here.

Our fact check work is supported in part by a grant from Facebook.

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