OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – Democrats in the Oklahoma Senate are urging Gov. Kevin Stitt to take stronger action in combating the spread of COVID-19 after the White House Coronavirus Task Force said that many COVID deaths in the state were preventable.
State Senator Kay Floyd, the Democratic Leader of the State Senate, wrote the letter to Stitt on behalf of Oklahoma Senate Democrats.
Floyd referenced the White House Coronavirus Task Force’s Oct. 4th report, which ranked Oklahoma as having the 10th highest positive COVID-19 test rate of any state in the country. The Task Force concluded that “Community transmission has remained high across the state for the past month, with many preventable deaths.”
“Oklahoma faces a serious public health emergency in the fight to contain COVID-19. The Oklahoma Senate Democrats urge you to implement the White House Coronavirus Task Force’s recommendations,” Floyd said in the letter.
The Oklahoma State Department of Health reports that 101,493 people in Oklahoma have tested positive for COVID-19, and 1,119 have died from the virus since the pandemic began in March.
Positive COVID-19 case totals in a 24-hour period, as well as COVID-19 hospitalizations, reached record highs in Oklahoma multiple times last week. OSDH officials reported on Tuesday that 15 more people in the state died from COVID-19 since Monday.
A projection by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation puts the number of COVID-19 deaths in Oklahoma just above 1,450 on Thanksgiving.
Floyd also told Stitt in the letter that Senate Democrats are urging him to provide school districts with resources to prevent COVID-19 transmission in schools.
“Many school districts lack the funding needed to fully implement COVID-19 safety protocols, including air filtration systems, plexiglass dividers and thorough sanitation,” Floyd said.
Floyd also called attention to the “disproportionate impact” COVID-19 is having on “minority and underserved” communities.
“Senate Democrats believe Oklahoma’s COVID-19 response should incorporate health equity to ensure all Oklahomans have access to affordable health care during the pandemic and going forward,” Floyd said to Stitt.
Floyd concluded the letter by urging Stitt and OSDH to fully engage with medical officials and fully rely upon their expertise and input. Floyd quoted Dr. George Monks, president of the Oklahoma State Medical Association, who said, “As hospitalizations increase, it is imperative our state leaders give our hospitals the resources, including staffing, needed to meet this increase.”
“The State Department of Health Advisory Board, which includes medical experts, has not met since January,” Floyd said in the letter. “A comprehensive public health based approach is imperative if we are to turn the tide against COVID-19 in Oklahoma.”
OU Medicine’s Dr. Dale Bratzler has also expressed frustration with the state’s response to the pandemic.
“The state health department actually has a graphic now that shows if you wear masks, and your community has a mandate, you have less new cases of COVID-19 and yet we can’t mandate it in our state,” Dr. Bratzler said. “What I really think is that we’re dragging this out, something that we could have tamped down quite a while back. We just keep kind of dragging it out.”
KFOR sought a response from the governor’s office regarding the criticism. Charlie Hannema, a spokesperson for Stitt, responded with the following statement:
“Governor Stitt’s thoughts on a mask mandate haven’t changed – he encourages Oklahomans to wear one when around others but doesn’t feel a statewide mandate is a one-size-fits-all solution. As for Dr. Bratzler, he’s certainly entitled to his opinion, but I’d be curious his examples of places that have ‘tamped down the virus a while back’ while also being open for more than 4 months without restrictions. In a perfect world, we’d have zero new cases, but our overall death rate has declined to 1.1%, and our per capita death rate is 57% lower than the national average and significantly lower than other states that are still shut down. The data shows Oklahomans are working together to protect our most vulnerable while minimizing the other harmful effects of a pandemic.”CHARLIE HANNEMA, SPOKESPERSON FOR GOV. KEVIN STITT
Bratzler said the COVID-19 death toll in Oklahoma did not have to turn out as high as it has become.
“I believe some of those deaths could have been prevented if we did not just rely on ‘personal responsibility,’” Bratzler said. “I stand by my recommendation that we should mandate masks across the state because the case counts are very high now, hospitalizations are going up, and we are going to see more people in Oklahoma die from this disease.”
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