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TULSA, Okla. (KFOR) – At a press conference Friday, Governor Kevin Stitt said he is not planning a state of emergency or to allow school mask mandates, citing personal responsibility and freedoms – despite Oklahoma health officials calling for executive action as COVID-19 cases across the state continue their upward trend.

Epidemiologist Aaron Wendelboe called the current situation “grim.”

Hospitalizations have tripled in the state over the past two weeks and, according to Wendelboe, two main contributing factors are low vaccination rates and the Delta variant.

Donna Tyungu, a pediatric infectious disease specialist said in-person classes are very important. However, they could be vectors for spreading the disease, with the Delta variant making it much worse.

Hospitalizations among kids ages 0 to 18 have not been decreasing.

“All children should just wear a mask and be safe,” Tyungu said.

“Do we want kids in the classroom or not?”

Epidemiologist Aaron Wendelboe

“Do we want kids in the classroom or not? I think we do and so if that’s the priority then we need to think about policies that help us do that,” said Wendelboe.

Other doctors said the Delta variant could turn the pandemic into an endemic. Doctors like Mary Clarke, president of the Oklahoma State Medical Association, said that means it becomes very hard for them to get rid of it and it could be a part of our lives for years to come.

“We are not in a sprint,” Clarke said. “We are in a marathon.”

In May, Governor Kevin Stitt rescinded the COVID-19 State of Emergency for Oklahoma.

Later that same month, he signed Senate Bill 658preventing schools from mandating vaccines or masks for kids who haven’t had the shot.

Now, Stitt says he has no intention of reversing either decision.

“This is about personal responsibility. This is about freedoms,” said Gov. Stitt.

His administration continues to stress the availability of vaccines, saying it is free and available to anyone who wants one.

However, children under 12 cannot receive a COVID-19 vaccination.

But the Governor says nothing in the law prevents parents from sending their kids to school with masks on or getting their older children vaccinated.

“We’re not going to mandate that someone else has to send their 4-year-old to school with a mask or get vaccinated,” said Stitt.

As schools head back to in-person learning, many local districts are simply recommending that students come to school masked up.