OKLAHOMA (KFOR) – Metro hospitals are on the brink of flatlining as staffing shortages continue and patients keep coming in, but healthcare systems and first responders are not alone in their fight. The latest wave also affects schools and work places across Oklahoma while state lawmakers continue to debate how to keep Oklahomans safe from COVID-19 weeks ahead of the 2022 Legislative Session. Republicans are pushing back on federal vaccine mandates and wanting to put those views into state laws.
“Trying to debate with the federal government on who is in charge is not productive,” said Sen. Julia Kirt, D-OKC.
“It’s become so politicized that I think more than any other time, it needs to be put in the hand of the individual citizen,” said Sen. Rob Standridge, R-Norman.
“Prior to 2020, vaccines were good,” said Sen. Mary Boren, D-Norman.
At the Oklahoma State Capitol, the debate on how to best protect Oklahomans from COVID-19 rages on. One day after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a federal vaccine mandate for large companies, Oklahoma lawmakers are working to do the same here.
“I have seen several bills that do just eliminate the mandates for sure,” said Standridge, a pharmacy owner.
Standridge authored one of at least seven bills limiting vaccine mandates. His bills allow employees to make claims against businesses if they’re hurt after being required to get the shot.
“If you force somebody to put something, some chemical in their body, you should be liable for the results,” he said.
Sen. David Bullard, R-Durant, also filed a bill Friday, making it “unlawful for any federal or state agency, political subdivision or any business under contract with the state to require any resident of Oklahoma to submit to or receive a COVID-19 vaccination or any variant thereof.”
Senate Democrats say this sounds more like political theater and federal government pushback.
“They are really leveraging on the political climate regarding COVID,” said Boren.
“We need to stop the spread of COVID, rather than this quibbling over who has control of which part,” said Kirt.
Meanwhile, across the Sooner State, school districts have been shutting their doors or shifting to virtual learning since so many teachers are out sick with COVID.
Mid-Del Schools said on Tuesday their students will be back in class but are required to wear masks. However, the district said mask opt-outs that were submitted earlier this year will still be honored.
Oklahoma City Public Schools previously announced students would be back to learning in-person on Tuesday. Friday, the district said students will be learning virtually on that day instead. However, OKCPS said there’s always the chance they’ll have to stick to online learning if there are still staffing issues next week.
“When the school is closed, you know, we’re left struggling,” said Angelica Johnson, a Norman Public Schools parent.
Johnson is just one of several parents forced to choose between work or staying at home with her child. Thankfully, the Norman Parks and Rec Department stepped up, providing relief for parents at $25 a child at three locations. Parents believed the care was worth the cash.
“Just the importance of having them here to support me as a single parent has been immeasurable,” said Johnson.
“We’re all one community working in this right now,” said Mitchell Richardson, the 12th Avenue Parks and Rec Center Supervisor.