Choctaw Nation sees COVID-19 testing surge

·4 min read

Jan. 14—An Oklahoma tribal health director said long lines at clinics signify record-setting COVID-19 testing numbers.

Choctaw Nation McAlester Health Clinic Director Tiffany Segotta said tribe health facilities administer an average of 950 tests each day in the most recent COVID-19 surge with record-breaking infection numbers statewide.

"It's shattered records across the board for our health facilities," Segotta said of testing.

The Oklahoma State Department of Health reported 11,315 new COVID-19 cases on Friday — the largest one-day case increase since 2020 — with 79,374 reported active cases statewide.

Choctaw Nation officials said the surge led to increased testing with several clinics operating at capacity.

Testing is available for Native Americans at the tribe's clinics in Durant, Atoka, Broken Bow, Hugo, Idabel, McAlester, Poteau, and Stigler from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Public testing is only available at the Choctaw Nation Health Care Center in Talihina from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. on weekdays and from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekends.

Tribal law enforcement have occasionally directed traffic during peak times with long lines for testing at the McAlester clinic.

"It's been an average of 135 a day," Segotta said of testing at the McAlester clinic.

Tribal officials do not have supply shortage concerns at this time and no plans to open a larger testing station outside of the current testing facilities.

Choctaw Nation Health Services Authority "has one hour to run a test before being out of compliance with the manufacturer's instructions," according to the tribe's website.

The Pittsburg and Latimer County Health Departments announced this week that rapid testing will temporarily only be available for first responders and healthcare providers due to the surge.

All other testing done at the two health departments will be sent off for testing with results available within 24-48 hours.

Testing is by appointment only from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday at both clinics with signup available online at www.oklahoma.gov/covid19.html and look for the get tested button at the top of the page.

Extended hours from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. will be available at the Pittsburg County Health Department on Jan. 18 and 25.

Appointments can also be made by calling the Pittsburg County clinic at 918-423-1267 or the Latimer County Health Department at 918-465-5673.

Retailers like CVS and Walgreens also offer no-cost PCR and rapid testing at their McAlester locations when available.

A look at CVS's website showed as of press time Friday, appointments were not available until Monday with no appointments available at any Walgreens in the area.

At-home rapid tests are also in high demand with Wal-Mart, CVS, and Walgreens all out of the tests at their McAlester locations and online at the time this article was being produced.

The Biden administration announced Friday that Americans can begin ordering free at-home COVID-19 tests starting Jan. 19 at www.COVIDTests.gov. A phone number will also be set up for those without internet access.

When asked about the availability of monoclonal antibodies, Segotta said the tribe halted giving out the antibodies this week due to the nationwide shortage.

"But we're coming back onboard with it in the very near future," Segotta said. "I would expect by next week we would be back onboard with them."

Segotta said vaccines remain open to the public at all of the clinics within the tribe's reservation with no appointment needed.

"Those that are vaccinated with a booster, we are only seeing about a 12% test positivaty rate," Segotta said. "So the booster has been very effective with this variant from what we've seen."

Medical experts and the CDC continue to recommend everyone 5 years and older get a primary series of the COVID-19 vaccination.

A primary series for children ages 5-17 is two doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine.

Vaccines approved for anyone at least 18 years old include the two-mRNA series of Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna; a Johnson & Johnson single-dose vaccine. The CDC states the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna are preferred.

The CDC recommends booster doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna at least five months after completing the primary series and a booster dose two month after receiving the J&J vaccination.

Contact Derrick James at djames@mcalesternews.com

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