OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – Gov. Kevin Stitt says he’s not going to mandate wearing face masks in Oklahoma, but also says he will not stand in the way of municipalities that do.
Stitt held a news conference Thursday evening in which he gave updates regarding COVID-19’s various impacts in the state, including the number of people infected, the number of people hospitalized and the number of people unemployed.
COVID-19 has had a strong resurgence in Oklahoma over the past two weeks, with hundreds of new cases each day. The Oklahoma State Department of Health reported 673 new cases Wednesday and 603 new cases Thursday. The highest 24-hour increase in the state was reported on Tuesday – 858 cases, a 5.2 percent jump.
“I’ve been very clear, I’m not comfortable with mandating masks. So, municipalities that mandate masks – that’s not something I would do,” Stitt said. “I’m going to protect the freedoms in Oklahoma. We’re not going to mandate in the state of Oklahoma, and we’re not going to be mask-shamers either.”
Stitt also said the state will not infringe on a local municipality’s decision to require its community members to wear face masks.
“I’m going to support our municipalities and local control. That’s up to the people in those municipalities and those communities to dictate what they think is best for those communities,” he said.
Stitt did urge community members to prevent the spread of COVID-19 by taking personal responsibility.
“Continue to wash your hands frequently, stay home when you’re sick, maintain physical distances and consider wearing a mask in public when maintaining physical distance is not possible,” Stitt said.
While Stitt asked Oklahomans to consider wearing a mask in public, the Oklahoma State Department of Health website states that “everyone should wear a cloth face cover when they have to go out in public.”
Stitt also discussed the number of people under the age of 50 in Oklahoma who have died from COVID-19 since the state reopened.
“Since we reopened, 72 percent of our cases have been in those younger than the age of 50. In those 10,000 cases, there have been just six deaths,” Stitt said. “I don’t want to minimize any deaths, but just want to continue to give the transparent data to Oklahomans.”
The state began its three-phase reopening on April 24. On that day, OSDH reported 188 total deaths in the state since the pandemic began in mid-March. On Thursday, July 9, OSDH reported 410 total deaths, which means there have been 222 new deaths since April 24.
Although Stitt mentioned the six Oklahomans under 50 who died since the state reopened, he did not mention the 216 deaths of people 50 and older since reopening
Stitt said while COVID-19 hospitalizations have increased in Oklahoma over the past few weeks, there are 5,000 COVID beds in hospitals throughout the state.
“Five hundred-and-sixty was our peak in hospitalizations on March 30. The day we started reopening on April 24, we had 306 people in the hospital being treated for COVID. We have had almost 15,000 new cases since we started reopening on April 24, but our hospitalizations have only gone up 181. So, today we have a total of 487 people in the hospital across the state of Oklahoma and we have the capacity for 5,000,” Stitt said.
Stitt also said there are an abundance of ICU beds in Oklahoma.
“We’re nowhere close to the capacity at this time. We have 186 people in the ICU across the state of Oklahoma. And if you look at our active cases, if you look at hospitalizations, we would have to go to something like 2,000 positive cases a day for a 14-day period to start approaching those ICU bed capacities,” he said.
COVID-19 Alert System
Stitt and Oklahoma Health Commissioner Lance Frye introduced a color-coded COVID-19 alert system designed to give community members and local officials a method by which they can recognize and communicate COVID-19 risk levels in each county and guide health behaviors.
“These levels [in the alert system] are based on publicly available, critically important data, and provide practical, actual information to guide behaviors and mitigate spread,” Frye said. “It’s a tiered, colored system similar to that of a weather warning system that communicates risk level and information at a county level.”
Click here to access the alert system.
Frye said Oklahomans must stay vigilant against COVID-19.
“We must understand that with increased socialization comes an increased risk of spread, and this is why personal responsibility is the key to stopping this virus,” he said. “We must all engage in good individual and collective choices. We are part of our communities, Oklahoma and our nation, and we must make choices that protect all of us, especially our most vulnerable population.”
Stitt asked that community members who are especially vulnerable to COVID-19 do their best to stay at home.
“We need to continue to take this very seriously to protect our lives and our livelihoods,” Stitt said.
Shelley Zumwalt, Interim Director of the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission, also spoke during the news conference, giving an update on the state’s continuing effort to process unemployment claims.
Zumwalt highlighted the several unemployment claim processing events that have been held at the Reed Event Center in Midwest City.
“We’ve been serving hundreds, if not thousands, of people at our events,” she said. “Seeing thousands of people at [these] events frees up phone lines so people have an easier time reaching an OESC Call Center agent.”
Zumwalt said significant progress has been made at the call center.
“We’ve seen our first call resolution numbers increase by 30 percent during my tenure at OESC, and yesterday 50 new call center employees started their eight-week training to become call center agents for the agency and we have 50 more who start their training in two weeks,” she said.
OESC officials will host two more claim processing events at the Reed Center, one to be held on Monday, July 13 and the other on Tuesday, July 14.
Claim processing events will also be held at Expo Square in Tulsa on Wednesday, July 15 and Thursday, July 16.