Stitt: Oklahomans encouraged to wear masks, but will not be mandated

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OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – State leaders are encouraging young adults to do their part in slowing the spread of COVID-19 across Oklahoma.

On Tuesday afternoon, Gov. Kevin Stitt held a news conference to provide an update on the state’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Although cases appeared to be slowly declining as the state slowly reopened, health officials say the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases has been steadily climbing in recent weeks.

“As expected, as we reopen, our positive cases have been increasing,” said Stitt. “Just because we are back open does not mean that we can let our guard down against this virus.”

On Tuesday, the Oklahoma State Department of Health reported 585 new cases, bringing the total to 13,757 since March.

It is the largest single-day increase since the coroanvirus was first detected in Oklahoma in March.

Since the state reopened, Gov. Stitt says that 71% of new cases have occurred in patients who are under the age of 50.

Although the case numbers have been dramatically increasing, officials say the death rate in that age group is around 0.08%. Also, hospitalizations have stayed almost flat since the state started its reopening plan.

However, state officials say young adults still need to pay attention and take precautions.

Oklahoma Commissioner of Health Lance Frye says the state faces a “critical” situation as we head into the Fourth of July weekend.

Frye says families are preparing to spend the holiday together, but younger patients may be asymptomatic and could spread the virus to vulnerable family members.

“Young people, rightfully so, will want to interact with their families and loved ones in the vulnerable category of over the age of 65: grandparents, aunts, uncles, parents. Young people need to be very careful since they could be carriers and not symptomatic, and could easily pass on this virus to their loved ones,” said Frye.

Frye says that state leaders are asking members of the community to wear a mask while in large groups, even when celebrating Independence Day.

Stitt says young people should be careful if they plan to be around their parents, grandparents, or anyone with a compromised immune system.

“We need to continue to protect those who are most vulnerable,” Stitt said.

Stitt says he is strongly encouraging Oklahomans to wear a mask in public to protect themselves and the community.

“Oklahomans, we come together to support each other, we support our neighbors in times of trouble, like after a tornado or a flood. We can extend the Oklahoma Standard by protecting our neighbors who may be more vulnerable to this virus. Research shows that wearing a mask when you can’t social distance significantly lowers the transmission rate of COVID-19. It may take some getting used to but it’s a small price to pay to be able to keep our businesses open, our economy running, and to be able to watch OU and OSU stick it to shorthorns on the football field in the fall,” Stitt said.

He says he is not planning to mandate that Oklahomans wear a mask, adding that he believes most people want to protect others around them.

Stitt says he is issuing an executive order, directing the Oklahoma State Department of Health to develop a color coded chart to help provide Oklahomans with new data on a county basis.

“Instead of large waves, we’ve seen localized outbreaks in different parts of the state, kind of county-by-county. So giving county-by-county guidance gives Oklahomans accurate pictures of the situation in their communities but also encourages them to be personally responsible for their actions, knowing their behaviors can help keep the county in the green,” he said.

Stitt says that COVID-19 will be around for the near future, so this system can help Oklahomans learn a new normal and know how to deal with the situation on a prolonged basis.

“We need all Oklahomans to play their part in slowing the spread of this virus and allow us to continue to keep all of our businesses open and get all Oklahomans safely back to work. So please, continue to wash your hands frequently, maintain social distancing, wear a mask when that’s not possible,” he said.

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