State officials held a ribbon cutting Thursday at the Oklahoma Pandemic Center for Innovation and Excellence in Stillwater.
The center was announced in October, and its more rural location was always the plan. State Secretary of Agriculture Blayne Arthur said human and animal health are closely related because of diseases that jump from animals to humans or that affect food supplies.
"By leveraging our state’s expertise and global relationships in animal and agricultural science, we can greatly improve our ability to respond to new diseases and public health threats as they arise," Arthur said.
Gov. Kevin Stitt believes the pandemic center will draw top researchers and make Oklahoma more competitive for grants.
State Health Commissioner Dr. Lance Frye said the facility will also play an immediate role in the coronavirus pandemic.
"This is where we’ll be able to sequence COVID-19 strains to be on the front lines of seeing where this virus is going and how we can combat it. This is where we’ll be a part of developing future vaccines and predicting pandemics before they spread far and wide," Frye said.
Oklahoma State Medical Association President Doctor George Monks said the group takes no issue with having the pandemic center in Stillwater, but there are a host of concerns with Stitt's decision to also relocate the state’s public health lab there from Oklahoma City.
"One of the most pressing issues is that this relocation is going to result in a huge decrease in the institutional knowledge during a time when we need it most, and many of these public health lab’s experienced employees have indicated they’re not willing to move to Stillwater," Monks said.
The Oklahoma Public Employees Association and state lawmakers have said there’s no reason to move the public health lab without the legislature weighing in, especially with the project costing tens of millions of dollars.
They also say Stillwater is too out of the way and disconnected from major medical centers to house the public health lab.