Oklahoma Public Health Lab Explains Why CDC Ranks State Among Lowest For COVID-19 Variant Testing

Thursday, April 15th 2021, 9:17 pm
By: Chinh Doan

STILLWATER, Oklahoma -

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ranks Oklahoma among the bottom for testing for different strains of COVID-19.

Some health experts have expressed concerns that the state is not doing enough to track mutations.

The new Oklahoma Pandemic Center of Innovation and Excellence and Public Health Lab in Stillwater, which broke ground in February, can test for COVID-19 and even take apart the samples to find any mutations and variants of concern or interest.

"We have 25 or so staffed in the lab and 10 dedicated to molecular alone, so sequencing is a different level of technical expertise, but we have plenty of staff to handle it," said Dr. Michael Kayser, director of the center and lab.

Kayser said the state was not testing for COVID-19 variants most of 2020 since there was not much knowledge about mutations then.

He added late last year, the state started sending 10 samples a week to the CDC as required when health experts learned of the UK variant.

Related Story: Health Experts Concerned About Spread Of Virus Variants In Oklahoma

According to the CDC’s latest data, Oklahoma has tested only 0.12 percent of samples for variants. News On 6 asked Kayser why.

"I'd like to see more sequencing as well,” said Kayser. “So, again we're building our infrastructure. We were in the process of building it, and that may be what happened. So, rather than send to CDC or send to reference labs, we were building our own homegrown sequencing centers."

Oklahoma has 11 confirmed cases of variants of concern: UK variant, South Africa variant and Brazil variant.

Kayser said he believes there are more, and he hopes the Public Health Lab can help identify them.

"Got all the equipment installed, and now we're getting staff ramped up and up to speed with testing and getting testing launched," said Kayser.

Kayser also said the state has tested a couple hundred specimens for variants, including samples sent to the CDC.