Thursday morning Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt and several state officials were in Stillwater for a ribbon-cutting ceremony to announce the Oklahoma Pandemic Center for Innovation and Excellence and relocated Public Health Lab.
The morning started with a news conference by Stitt; Commissioner of Health Dr. Lance Frye; Secretary of Science and Innovation Elizabeth Pollard; Kevin Corbett, Secretary of Health and Mental Health and Blayne Arthur, Secretary of Agriculture.
Stitt told the press after searching for the perfect spot for the center, he found it here in Stillwater.
“So three, four, five years ago the legislature had passed a bonding authority to create a new health lab. The health lab employs about 50 people in Oklahoma City, and so as we were looking for a spot to put that new health lab, we found the perfect place right here to partner with this National Pandemic Center," he said.
Stitt said at this time Oklahoma is processing around 1,000 COVID-19 testing samples a day. With this new Pandemic Center, that number will increase substantially, he said.
“The great thing about this lab and the technology and what we’re doing, is we've gone from being able to do 1,000 COVID samples a day, this lab is going to be able to do 30,000 a day,” Stitt said.
According to an OSDH release the center's mission is to "develop innovative testing tools, conduct cutting edge research and grow partnerships between public and private entities, bridging the gap between laboratory and clinical practices and improving public health responses by establishing an all-encompassing approach to research for rural, urban and tribal communities."
Officials said this lab will be Oklahoma’s “frontline defense” and Stitt said he believes Oklahoma is the first in the nation to have something like this.
The lab has different areas in which disease can be studied to prevent or help in the future with pandemics.
Infectious Disease Expert Dr. Pai Gita said society doesn’t have to imagine what living through a pandemic would be like, because we have been living through it.
She said this lab could be helpful in mitigating the “sudden unforeseen and potentially catastrophic impacts” of infectious disease.
Gita also said the technology they have will play a key role in early detection, investigation, diagnosis, ongoing surveillance and monitoring of infectious diseases.
The Pandemic Center has many different areas of study including Molecular Biology, Newborn Screening, Biorepository (proper biological samples of human, plant and animal), Public Health Education, Bioinformatics, Infectious Disease, Agricultural Research and Accessioning.
Stitt expressed excitement regarding the OPCIE and how he believes this will help not only Oklahoma, but the nation as well.
“So to be prepared for the next pandemic and we've used some CARES Act money to do that," he said. "We believe we are the first in the nation to plant the flag to be a National Pandemic Center and it is just perfect to coordinate with the health lab as well."