OKLAHOMA CITY — State health officials said private laboratories were already testing Oklahomans for suspected cases of COVID-19 in the weeks before the first confirmed case.

However, two of the state’s top disease experts say it’s actually not known if COVID-19 already was circulating in Oklahoma the month before the state confirmed its first positive

case. James Papin, a virologist with the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center, said he didn’t know when the virus might have arrived in Oklahoma.

However, he said experts analyzed COVID-19 virus’ genomes as they moved around the world to try to pinpoint its arrival in the United States.

That data determined the virus most likely arrived in America between mid-January and mid-February, he said.

“Because we didn’t have a good idea of who was infected and who was not, tracking that transmission and where the virus was actually at within the United States is a little more difficult to say during that time,” Papin said.

The State Department of Health said last week that Oklahomans had been tested for COVID19 weeks before the first confirmed case.

State health officials said nearly 11,000 negative COVID-19 test results

were received from private laboratories. Some of those negative test results dated back to early February, they said. Aaron Wendelboe, the state’s interim state epidemiologist, said Oklahoma received more than 20,000 test results as of Monday. Officials remain confident that Oklahoma’s first positive COVID-19 case was March 6, he said.

Since then, the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases has grown to 2,069. The cumulative number of hospitalizations reached 457 on Monday, and there were 99 deaths.

“There will always be the possibility that COVID cases could have existed before testing was widely available in the United States,” Wendelboe said. “At this point, without any definitive information, any conclusions regarding COVID cases in (Oklahoma in) February are speculative.”

Stecklein covers the Oklahoma Statehouse for CNHI's newspapers and websites. Reach her at jstecklein@cnhi.com.

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