Scientists expand testing capabilities as active virus cases nears 10,000 in Oklahoma

Michael D. Smith
Tyler Shadid (front) and Sean Turner process samples in the new viral testing lab created by a partnership between the University of Oklahoma and the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation.

Oklahoma scientists have developed a high-capacity COVID-19 testing method as the number of people confirmed to have contracted the virus in the state surpasses 65,000.

The Oklahoma State Department of Health on Tuesday reported 65,053 confirmed coronavirus cases and 854 deaths, increases of 833 cases and one death from those reported Monday. 

The true 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.

Oklahoma recorded 9,930 people with presumably active cases of COVID-19. The number of people not recorded as deceased or recovered has roughly doubled in two months.

The Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation announced a new approach to testing for the coronavirus which causes COVID-19. Known as a reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction, the new testing method can detect a small amount of the virus from even a limited sample, according to a Tuesday statement.

“It was a completely novel idea to use the equipment this way,” said Dr. Michael Talbert, who oversees laboratory testing operations at the University of Oklahoma. “No one had done this.”

Talbert was approached by Dr. Joel Guthridge, from the OMRF, to help improve the state’s COVID-19 testing abilities early in the pandemic when only a few dozen samples could be tested per day. With the new testing method, up to 186 samples can be tested at a time with results available in about six hours.

“This was a major unmet need,” said Guthridge in a Tuesday statement. “Everyone recognized we had to have more testing.”

In June, the team filed its final application with the Food and Drug Administration to launch the new test and the operation has continued to increase capacity. The laboratory at OU Medicine facilities is among nearly 130 labs across the state testing patient specimens for the coronavirus.

The state health department reported 54,269 people have recovered from COVID-19 since March. The number of people not recorded as deceased or recovered fell slightly but remained over 9,000 for a fifth day.

The number of Oklahomans receiving hospital care for confirmed or suspected COVID-19 fell last week and below 500 for the first time since July 11. Mercy Hospital Ardmore was caring for seven confirmed or suspected COVID-19 patients on Tuesday, with one of those patients receiving ICU care, according to a hospital spokesperson.

Carter County recorded 42 people that have tested positive for the coronavirus were not deceased or recovered on Tuesday.

Carter County has recorded 436 people with COVID-19, after seven new cases were recorded Tuesday. Presumably active cases in Carter County jumped to 43 on Tuesday, after the number of people with COVID-19 not recorded as deceased or recovered spent most of the weekend below 40.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and 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.