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Lance Frye out as Oklahoma health commissioner

Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt (left) and Dr. Lance Frye, then commissioner of the Oklahoma State Department of Health (right).

The state’s top public health official resigned on Friday.

The resignation of Oklahoma Commissioner of Health Dr. Lance Frye was announced on Friday afternoon. The resulting press release did not detail the reason for his departure. It did announce that Deputy Commissioner Keith Reed would step up and replace Frye.

Frye, formerly the State Air Surgeon for the Oklahoma National Guard, took over the Oklahoma State Department of Health in May 2020, as the state’s COVID-19 outbreak became dire.

The agency has been embroiled in several controversies since.

In August 2020, it was reported that the agency had been withholding White House Coronavirus Task Force reports and recommendations from the public. Only after several reporters shined a light on it did OSDH start releasing the reports publicly.

In October 2020, a sudden announcement that the state’s public health laboratory would move from Oklahoma City to Stillwater quickly garnered opposition. The plan and its lack of transparency angered the lab's employees, most of whom learned of the move from news reports. Then, in May 2021, the director of the lab quit after just four months on the job.

In August 2021, the agency stopped reporting ICU and hospital occupancy data before the latest delta surge. It only started including that data in reports again after reporters shined a light on it.

Most recently — this week — the department changed its policy on re-issued birth certificates after settling a federal lawsuit. The change allows non-binary Oklahomans their own gender designation on updated certificates. Top conservative officials lambasted the move publicly. That included Gov. Kevin Stitt, who said he "wholeheartedly condemn[ed]" it.

Catherine Sweeney reports for StateImpact Oklahoma, focusing on health.
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