Oklahoma governor names interim state health commissioner
Oklahoma City (AP) — Gov. Kevin Stitt has named Oklahoma Air National Guard surgeon Col. Lance Frye of Tulsa as interim commissioner of the Oklahoma State Department of Health as the state continues to reopen in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.
Frye replaces Gary Cox, whose nomination was never taken up by the state Senate after several senators expressed concerns that Cox, an attorney, lacks the qualifications to be state health commissioner.
The qualifications include being a medical doctor or hold at least a master of science degree.
Frye’s appointment will go to the state Senate during its next session, starting in early 2021, for confirmation.
Stitt said Frye has worked on a task force responding to the spread of the coronavirus in the state, including developing a plan to deal with a potential surge in the need for hospital beds in the state.
“My job is going to be just getting acclimated to the new role,” Frye said. “I’ve been working alongside these people for the last two months.”
Stitt, after praising Cox, called Frye “an incredible choice” as health commissioner.
Besides serving with the Guard, Frye has been interim department chair, residency program director and a professor at Oklahoma State University Center for Health Sciences.
UNEMPLOYMENT DIRECTOR RESIGNS
The director of the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission resigned Friday as the unemployment agency has been the target of complaints of jobless claims going unpaid.
Gov. Kevin Stitt said in a news release that OESC director Robin Roberson, who was appointed to the post in January, has resigned and, while thanking her, also called for improvements at the agency.
“Oklahomans have the expectation that state services will be available when they need them the most, and I know there are still many Oklahomans waiting for unemployment benefits,” Stitt said.
“I have confidence that the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission will identify the right leader to quickly get to the bottom of the issues exposed by this pandemic, to continue to modernize its antiquated systems as we move forward, and to deliver the services Oklahomans deserve.”
Dozens of people rallied at the state Capitol on Monday, complaining that their state unemployment claims weren’t being processed.
Stitt said Oklahoma remains on track with a plan to reopen as hospitalizations due to COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus have fallen from a peak of 560 in late March to 190 as of Thursday.
Stitt said the percentage of positive tests for the virus has dropped from about 10% to 4.3%.
The next phase of the reopening, currently scheduled for June 1, would include unrestricted staffing at worksites and the reopening of church and school summer camps.
The Oklahoma State Department of Health on Friday reported an increase of 169 confirmed coronavirus cases and three additional deaths due to COVID-19.
The department said there are now at least 5,849 cases and 307 deaths, increases from at least 5,680 positive cases and 304 deaths reported Thursday.
The actual number of those infected is thought to be much higher because many people haven’t been tested and studies suggest people can have the disease without showing symptoms.
In the Oklahoma Panhandle, Texas County now ranks near the top in the state in confirmed cases at 851, including at least 440 at Seaboard Foods’ pork processing plant in Guymon, which has about 2,700 employees.
“We knew from watching testing efforts in other areas of the country that when more tests are conducted, more positive test results come in. We were prepared for that, and the test results reinforce that broad employee testing is the right thing to do to help keep our employees safe and for our employees to understand their COVID-19 status and that of their peers,” the company said in a statement.
For most people, the 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.
Associated Press reporter Sean Murphy contributed to this report