Updated July 31, 2020 at 4:46 p.m.
As crazy as it seems, it’s hard to get good information about COVID testing in Oklahoma. We’ve had the same frustrating experiences.
So, here is a practical guide about COVID-19 testing in Oklahoma answering questions we’ve received from our community members. Keep checking back as this post will be continually updated with information we received from the Oklahoma State Department of Health, pharmacies, laboratories, Tribal governments and others.
If you still have a question about how to get tested or something else about COVID-19 in Oklahoma, text “COVID” to 844-777-7719, and we’ll look into it.
How many different kinds of tests are out there and do some tests take a shorter time to process than others?
According to the Food and Drug Administration, there are three types of tests available at this time: molecular tests, antibody tests and antigen tests.
Molecular tests, sometimes called diagnostic, viral or PCR tests, tell you if you have a current infection and are the most accurate. For this type of test, typically a mucus sample is taken from your nasal passage or throat with a swab. Sometimes a specimen can be taken from saliva, but this test is less common at this time. Molecular tests are usually performed at laboratories, which means the timeframe of getting your results back varies widely. People who responded to KOSU’s text messages report waiting from 2 to 12 days.
Antigen tests are similar to molecular tests in that they tell you if you have a current infection and a mucus sample is taken from your nasal passage or throat with a swab. Positive results, meaning you have the virus, are usually highly accurate. Sometimes the test comes back as a false negative, meaning you may have symptoms of COVID-19 but your antigen test shows you don’t have the virus. In this case, your doctor will most likely have to perform a molecular test on you. Antigen tests offer quick results, only taking about an hour to get back.
Antibody tests tell you if you have been infected in the past. It typically takes the human body one to three weeks after an infection to make antibodies, meaning your doctor will not use this test to diagnose a current infection. For this type of test a blood sample is taken. Antibody tests are usually performed at laboratories, which means the timeframe of getting your results back may vary. Check out this article by NPR’s Richard Harris for an in-depth look at antibody testing in the U.S.
What types of COVID-19 testing are available through the Oklahoma State Department of Health?
The Oklahoma State Department of Health (OSDH) provides PCR (polymerase chain reaction) testing at all of their locations across Oklahoma. A PCR (diagnostic) test looks for genetic material from the coronavirus, taken from a sample of mucus with a swab from a person’s nasal passage or throat. Presence of genetic material from the virus indicates a person has been infected. NPR’s Richard Harris said, generally speaking, these are the most reliable tests - however a few days may pass before the virus starts replicating in the nose and throat. This means a person who was just infected may not get a positive test result.
(KOSU updated the last sentence to contain the word 'not' for more clarification.)
What types of testing is being counted toward the total number of cases in Oklahoma?
Kristin Davis, communications director for OSDH said in an email to KOSU, the agency conducts contact tracing on positive tests from both PCR and antigen tests. If a person comes back positive from an antigen test, the state conducts an investigation and works to get that individual to a PCR test - which is in accordance with CDC guidance.
OSDH reports a person as a “confirmed” case once the person has tested positive with a PCR test, demographics have been collected, and test results are de-duplicated.
Positive antigen tests are included in the State’s “probable case” count to the CDC. You can find Oklahoma's data here along with other states.
You can also find other specific data - based on county, deaths, zip code and other factors - on OSDH’s website here.
In a separate report on specimen testing, OSDH footnotes the data reported to them from laboratories that numbers may not reflect unique individuals.
How many COVID-19 tests are being done per day?
The Oklahoma State Department of Health is currently testing, on average, 2,000 people per day at 80 test sites across the state. That is an average of 25 tests per site per day. This number does not include testing done at private labs, drive-thru clinics, pharmacies, Tribal health clinics, or your doctor’s office.
How does the CARES Act relate to COVID-19 testing?
The lists of ‘allowable costs’ to use CARES act money for includes testing for COVID-19. The test would need to be able to detect the SARS-CoV-2 virus with a greater than 95% sensitivity, greater than 90% specificity with results obtained rapidly. The PCR test that is free through the state qualifies for this type of allowance.
Currently, Oklahoma and other public health officials across the state and nation are battling outdated technology and data reporting in regards to COVID-19 testing. On July 17, OSDH said they are looking to use CARES Act funding to implement new technology to address data inconsistencies in the state. OSDH said the outdated technologies they’re using are dependent on fax machines and manual data entry. This has led to inconsistencies in movement of data between local, private and public health entities.
“We have needed a technical solution since well before the pandemic,” said Deputy Commissioner of Prevention and Preparedness Travis Kirkpatrick. “The backlog we’ve experienced as the state has increased its testing capability has given us the opportunity to incorporate immediate fixes while moving towards developing a permanent solution.”
In KOSU’s own callout to our listening community and texting club members - there were also self-reported delays of more than 12 days getting test results back from both public and private entities.
“OSDH is highly focused on COVID-19 testing, effectively tracing cases and ensuring those individuals who test positive are quarantined as quickly as possible before they spread the virus to others,” said interim Commissioner Lance Frye. “We recognize the significant issues we’ve experienced in the past and are working to eliminate them by incorporating new technology to enhance the current system as we work towards a long-term solution.”
How much does a COVID-19 test cost?
“All COVID-19 testing provided by OSDH is free. Pharmacies, retailers, labs, etc. may charge for their fees,” Davis said.
According to the CARES Act, the COVID test must be free, but doctors, clinics and labs may charge for an office visit or other processing.
The people who responded to KOSU’s text messages report a wide range of fees from $0 to $300. In some cases, these bills were received in the mail days or weeks after the test. So, make sure to ask about any potential charges before a test is administered.
KOSU is following up to find out more information on these reported charges.
Where can I get a free test? 1.) Tests provided by the Oklahoma State Department of Health are free to the public. You can see a list of testing sites and their phone numbers to schedule an appointment online here. 2.) You can also get tested at CVS for free under most insurance policies or under federal insurance programs if you’re uninsured. However, CVS has reported their partnered labs are backlogged - and have told people to expect results between six to 10 days.
- CVS Minute Clinics are only administering PCR tests and are not offering antibody or antigen tests. They also only test adults 18 and older.
- CVS requires you to make an appointment and bring your insurance card, if you have it. Otherwise you will be asked for your social security number (you do not need to bring your card), a driver’s license or state ID. CVS uses the identification to submit the cost of your test to the federal program for the uninsured.
- Also, at the Minute Clinics people administer their own PCR test or they must bring someone to administer it for them. Other FAQs about getting tested at CVS locations can be found here.
3.) The Oklahoma Blood Institute is providing free COVID-19 antibody testing through August with every blood, platelet or plasma donation, according to Heather Browne, marketing and media manager for OBI.
- At the time of the donation, people may choose to receive their antibody test results by video call from a health professional or by mail. Donors can also opt out of antibody testing.
- OBI administers the Abbot antibody test, which is a high accuracy rate (around 99%) for detecting antibodies in the blood 14 days or more after the onset of symptoms. The Abbot test has not been formally approved by the FDA and is not intended to establish a diagnosis or treatment of COVID-19. OBI asks that if you have been diagnosed with or suspected of having COVID-19 to wait 14 days since your last symptoms if you wish to donate.
4.) According to their website, Walgreens is not offering COVID-19 testing in Oklahoma at this time. However, they are offering testing at locations in all of Oklahoma’s neighboring states, for those who live near Oklahoma’s border.
KOSU is updating this question as more information comes in.