OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – As more Oklahomans sign up to receive an appointment for a COVID-19 vaccine, state leaders say they are working to get life back to normal.
It has been one year since life turned upside down for many Oklahomans.
On March 11, 2020, the Chesapeake Energy Arena was packed with fans preparing to watch the Oklahoma City Thunder take on the Utah Jazz.
However, the game was canceled before tipoff after Rudy Gobert tested positive for COVID-19.
Since then, Oklahomans have learned more about coronavirus precautions like washing your hands, wearing a mask, and staying socially distant from others.
One year after that event, state leaders say they are taking steps to move forward into the ‘new normal.’
“The worst is behind us,” said Gov. Kevin Stitt on Thursday.
Once the COVID-19 vaccines received emergency use authorization, Oklahoma health officials immediately began vaccinating the most vulnerable to the virus.
In all, officials say 1,131,340 vaccines have been administered in Oklahoma.
“We are on the way to herd immunity as a state,” said Commissioner of Health Dr. Lance Frye.
This week, the Oklahoma State Department of Health announced that the 2.5 million Oklahomans listed under Phase 3 are now eligible for the vaccine.
Phase 3 includes those in educational settings outside of PreK-12th grade including childcare facilities, early childhood facilities, colleges, universities, and other post-secondary institutions.
Phase 3 also includes workers at all essential businesses.
Health officials say Oklahomans should get the vaccine as soon as possible to help reach herd immunity.
“The vaccine is very safe and very effective,” Dr. Frye said.
In the meantime, Dr. Frye says keeping up precautions is vital until herd immunity is reached.
“We want you to keep up the hard work and collaborations that Oklahomans are so good at by continuing to follow the three Ws: wear a mask, wash your hands, watch your distance, and add the fourth one, which is wait for the vaccine,” Dr. Frye said. “Use your best judgement to protect yourselves and one another from COVID-19.”
Moments later, Gov. Stitt announced that he would be issuing a new executive order to make sure there are no statewide restrictions on events, and said the order would also remove requirements to wear a mask in state buildings.
He says that he believes wearing a mask should be a personal decision based on your circumstances.
“As long as I’m governor, I will protect the freedoms of Oklahomans,” he said.
Stitt says that although COVID-19 is still in the state, he is basing his decisions on current hospitalizations and case counts.
“This virus will never disappear completely, it’s gonna be in Oklahoma for a while,” he said. “But we can get back to normal. We have a plan in place so that you can safely get back to work, your kids can safely go to school, and you can get a vaccine.”
Officials with the Oklahoma State Medical Association criticized the move, saying now is not the time to roll back restrictions.
“There is no doubt that the state has made tremendous progress and is one of the nation’s leaders in vaccination efforts. But letting up on our efforts to battle COVID now is like a football player spiking the ball at the five-yard line. We are nearing the goal, but we are not there yet. I applaud all of the municipalities who have kept their mask ordinances and other commonsense measures in place as we work toward protecting our population. I urge all Oklahomans to get vaccinated as soon as you are able. Additionally, it is vital that we continue to wear our masks, keep our distance and wash our hands. We are so close to the goal line—don’t let up now,” said Dr. George Monks, president of the Oklahoma State Medical Association.