The State of Oklahoma is spending $18.6 million in federal COVID-19 relief funds on upgrading 13 traveler information centers across the state.
“We are the crossroads of America,” Lt. Gov. and Secretary of Tourism Branding Matt Pinnell said. “We have more people visiting our welcome centers than most any other state.”
Pinnell said the federal CARES Act funds will be used to make touchless entry points, touchless bathroom amenities, counter barriers to protect staff and revised layouts to allow visitors to socially distance.
“If people visiting the state of Oklahoma feel safe, if they can go to a welcome center where there’s clean bathroom facilities and where we can safely social distance, we will be able to also at the same time show them the amazing things that they can do around the state,” Pinnell said.
Despite the public health push, face masks aren't required at welcome facilities where there isn't a local mandate. Pinnell acknowledged frequent days with record setting hospitalizations and positive tests don't help attract visitors.
“Yes, it's important we get a handle and we continue to address COVID every single minute of the day, but as secretary of tourism, I have a swim lane that I have control over, and I want to make sure that I stay in that swim lane and doing that means fixing these welcome centers from across the state,” he said.
He said not all of the welcome center projects are using COVID-19 relief funds. In Midwest City, the welcome center sidewalks appear to be under construction.
“Some of them are funded by the Department of Transportation as well maybe some new signs, things that we couldn’t pay for obviously with COVID dollars,” Pinnell said.