Gov. Stitt to issue order limiting indoor public gatherings to 50 percent capacity, except for churches; refers to mask mandate as ‘magic words’

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OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – Gov. Kevin Stitt announced that he is taking action against the worsening COVID-19 pandemic by limiting indoor public gatherings to 50 percent capacity, but he said that order does not pertain to churches.

Stitt said during a press conference from the state capitol that public gatherings are to be limited to 50 percent capacity. Stitt gave examples of such gatherings, including indoor youth sports games, weddings, funerals and holiday parties.

However, Stitt said churches are exempt from the executive order.

“This doesn’t apply to churches,” Stitt said. “But I want them to continue to innovate. Most of the churches I talked to are checking temperatures before the kids go into the nursery. Their workers are wearing masks. I encourage them to continue to innovate…to continue to offer online options [and] every other row [seating]. Just like all of our businesses are doing at this point, we need all Oklahomans stepping up the effort to help health care workers during this time.”

A news release from Stitt’s office lists the executive order’s action steps as the following:

  • Attendance at youth indoor sporting events will be limited to four spectators per participant or 50% of the building’s capacity, whichever is lower. 
  • Public gatherings will be limited to 50% capacity unless the local Health Department has granted an exception. 
  • The rules for bars and restaurants, first implemented under Seventh Amended EO 2020-20 will be extended. Tables must stay six feet apart, unless separated by sanitized dividers, and restaurants and bars must close by 11 p.m. except for drive thru or takeout. 
  • Face masks will continue to be required for all state employees and visitors in state agency buildings. 

The new executive order will go into effect no later than Monday.

Stitt went on to bring up the issue of whether he should enact a statewide face mask mandate, an action that he is still not going to take.

“I’ve heard from many Oklahomans who want me to issue a statewide mask mandate. I’ve also heard from many, many more Oklahomans who don’t want me to. The goal is to get people to wear a mask,” Stitt said.

Photo goes with story
Gov. Kevin Stitt

Stitt referenced Carnegie Mellon University data that he says shows Oklahoma went from 79 percent of Oklahomans wearing masks on Nov. 1 to more than 87 percent of Oklahomans wearing masks today.

“We’ve closed the gap with Alabama and Louisiana, and they’ve had mandates in place since this summer. You know, it’s not about magic words, it’s about Oklahomans doing their part to slow the spread of this virus,” Stitt said.

Stitt then spoke optimistically about COVID-19 vaccinations, saying that vaccinations should start arriving in Oklahoma next week and that 166,000 doses are expected to arrive over the next three weeks.

“That will let us make great progress for our healthcare workers, our higher risk groups and prioritize their vaccination,” Stitt said.

Stitt said the arrival of vaccinations are not the end of Oklahoma’s COVID-19 challenges, but a step toward the end.

“That’s my message for Oklahoma: We can see the light at the end of the tunnel, we are going to get through this together,” he said.

However, Stitt urged Oklahomans to keep their guard up by taking measures to protect themselves and each other, including wearing a face mask.

“The reality of this situation is that it’s up to everyone of us to keep Oklahomans safe, to keep our neighbors safe and slow the spread so we can keep our kids in school [and] we can keep our businesses open safely,” he said. “So please keep watching your distance, wear a mask when you’re around others, wash your hands frequently.”

Photo goes with story
Oklahoma Health Commissioner Dr. Lance Frye.

Oklahoma Commissioner of Health Dr. Lance Frye then took the podium, also urging Oklahomans to practice the three W’s – Wear a mask, Wash your hands, Watch your distance – and recommended Oklahomans take the following actions to prevent spreading COVID-19 as we continue into the holiday season.

  • Consider gathering virtually or with members of your own household.
  • If you do gather with others, keep gatherings small and ensure you have enough space to socially distance with six feet between each person. Gather outside if the weather permits.
  • Wear a mask anytime you’re around people who are not members of your own household.
  • Wash your hands frequently.

“I know it’s hard to make these adjustments. I’m struggling along with you – everyone is – but I can’t overstate how important it is that we don’t let our guard down now,” Frye said.

COVID-19 is deadlier than ever before in Oklahoma.

The Oklahoman State Department of Health reported 35 additional COVID-19 related deaths on Thursday. Oklahoma has had 1,980 coronavirus deaths since the pandemic began in March.

OSDH reported 2,460 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday, bringing the total number of cases in Oklahoma since March to 225,453.

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