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.
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 Thursday reported that at least 5,680 people have tested positive for the virus and 304 deaths due to COVID-19.
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.
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.