Only On 9: Former State Epidemiologist: Health Department Employees 'Exhausted'

Tuesday, August 4th 2020, 7:31 pm

The Oklahoma State Department of Health is now on its third epidemiologist since the COVID-19 pandemic began after Dr. Aaron Wendelboe’s contract expired last week.

“I was really honored to serve in that role, but the intention was never for me to do that on a full-time basis,” he said.

He had only been on the job since March 17, but said he looks forward to returning to his career in academia at the University of Oklahoma’s school of public health.

In his first interview since leaving the department of health, Wendelboe told News 9 many of the employees are tired.

“We’ve got a lot of fantastic people at the health department, but I think I can speak for them, they’re tired,” he said. “They’re pretty exhausted and they’ve been working, many of them without a single day off since March.”

He said he doesn’t think the turnover in his former position is a sign of the state epidemiologist’s diminished value to Governor Kevin Stitt and Interim Health Commissioner Col. Lance Frye.

Both Wendelboe and his replacement, OSU Veterinary Medicine’s Dr. Jared Taylor, were selected to be the state’s top epidemiologist on a “epidemiology consultant” basis. The last full-time state epidemiologist, Laurence Burnsed, was reassigned within the department in March and has since left for a job at Mercy hospital.

Despite the state epidemiologist’s value to the governor, Wendelboe and Stitt have differing opinions on the trajectory of the virus.

“We are currently on this plateau,” the governor told reporters on July 30. “We are averaging 700 to 1,100 new cases per day, we’ve been on this range for 3 weeks.”

Asked if the state had reached a plateau, the former state epidemiologist said, “People are talking about that, and I am maybe not willing to state anything definitively yet definitely. We’ve seen a decrease in numbers the last few days but, like I said I’d really like to wait for a couple more days, see how tomorrow’s numbers come out. “

Toward the end of his time with the department of health, Wendelboe said he helped work on plans to reopen schools. He emphasizes studies have shown that children can contract the virus, but said training them at a young age to wear masks would help stifle the spread of the virus,

When asked if he would send his children to public school when classes resume, Wendelboe said, “I think that every family just needs to weigh the decisions they have to make because it's a tough situation and there isn't a right answer.”