State leaders hold ribbon-cutting ceremony for new pandemic center and relocated public health lab; health officials clarify drastic drop in COVID cases

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STILLWATER, Okla. (KFOR) – Gov. Kevin Stitt, Cabinet Leaders and the State Health Department held a ribbon-cutting ceremony for new the new Oklahoma Pandemic Center of Innovation and Excellence and the relocated Public Health Lab.

Leaders say the new center and lab is a place to do all-encompassing research, from identifying COVID strains to processing samples, and even screening newborns for different types of disease.

“This is where we’ll be a part of developing future vaccines and predicting pandemics before they spread far and wide,” State Health Commissioner Lance Frye said.

“This facility will focus on using a ‘one health’ approach, which recognizes that the health of humans is closely tied to the health of animals and our environment,” Secretary of Agriculture Blayne Arthur said. 

Last October, the governor said the lab would be moved out of Oklahoma City.

Leaders say Stillwater is a good place for both urban and rural medicine.

“We found the perfect place right here to partner with this national pandemic center,” Gov. Kevin Stitt said. 

However, some doctors disagree, saying the lab should stayed in Oklahoma City, and that not all employees will want to move.

“That’s where the medical infrastructure is for our state. You’re going to be losing a lot of institutional knowledge, losing those employees,” Dr. George Monks with the Oklahoma State Medical Association said.

State leaders say they’ll work with those who don’t want to deal with the long distance.

“If anyone decides, ‘hey it’s not for me,’ we’re going to do as much as we can to find opportunities for them in our 2,000+ member agency, other opportunities in the state, anything we can do to be helpful for them,” Deputy Commissioner of Health Travis Kirkpatrick said. 

State Health Commissioner Lance Frye is also clarifying confusion about a drastic decrease in COVID-19 cases.

“There was nothing wrong with it,” he said. 

When the numbers dropped dramatically, the health department had an analytics team look into the system in case there was something wrong, but they didn’t find anything.

Frye doesn’t think it’s because of less testing.

“We process over 20,000 tests that day so the testing is still up there, we’re starting to see the numbers come down our percent positivity is decreasing,” he said. 

He adds other numbers are also coming down, but is still cautious.

“Our seven day rolling average of cases has been falling, and the hospitalizations have been going down, so overall, I like to say cautiously optimistic, but overall, something’s going on,” he said. “It’s probably a combination of a lot of factors, including the vaccine.”

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