Director, Center for Independent Journalism

Ray Carter is the director of OCPA’s Center for Independent Journalism. He has two decades of experience in journalism and communications. He previously served as senior Capitol reporter for The Journal Record, media director for the Oklahoma House of Representatives, and chief editorial writer at The Oklahoman.

Director, Center for Independent Journalism

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Twenty days into the state’s reopening, Gov. Kevin Stitt said Oklahoma is on pace to enter the final phase of that process by June 1 and could be a national leader.

“I want Oklahoma to be the first state in the nation to get its wings back and serve as an example of a community that works together, not against each other, a community that wins together, succeeds together, and thrives together,” Stitt said. “This is our moment to showcase Oklahoma’s courage and freedom to the nation.”

Stitt called for statewide “alignment” on two objectives: beating the virus to protect the health and lives of Oklahomans, and reviving the economy to “give prosperity and freedom back to all Oklahomans.”

“We are Oklahomans. We believe in freedom, in courage and respect, in compassion, and in the value of placing facts over fears,” Stitt said. “We want all Oklahomans to live healthy, prosperous, happy lives. I believe this is a common objective shared by all.”

The governor noted Oklahoma continues to have the eighth-fewest cases of COVID-19 per 100,000 population.

While some critics have suggested that low rate is the product of a low level of testing, Oklahoma’s testing rate is comparable to several other major states, yet the rate of positive cases is far lower in Oklahoma.

Oklahoma has administered 2,776 tests per 100,000 population. That is a slightly higher rate of testing than California (2,697), Georgia (2,693), and Florida (2,773). Yet Oklahoma’s rate of positive cases—123 cases per 100,000 citizens—is significantly lower than the rate of positive cases in those states. California has 185 cases per 100,000 people, Georgia has 337, and Florida has 197.

“California was one of the first states to go into total lockdown,” Stitt said. “But they have 33 percent more cases per capita than we do in Oklahoma.”

Since Oklahoma began reopening on April 24, the number of people hospitalized in the state for COVID-19 has declined nearly 29 percent, falling from 306 hospitalizations on April 24 to 218 on May 13. The decline in hospitalizations has occurred even as people have been allowed to move about and intermingle with greater frequency.

The share of people testing positive for COVID-19 has also continued to decline in Oklahoma even as testing increases, with just 4.8 percent of those testing having the virus as of May 13.

Stitt also noted Oklahoma is in compliance with World Health Organization guidance for testing. That guidance indicates sufficient testing is being provided when fewer than 10 percent of those tested have the virus.

The number of active COVID-19 cases in Oklahoma and Tulsa counties represents just 0.027 percent and 0.017 percent of those counties’ total populations, respectively. Put another way, Stitt said, more than 99.99 percent of people in those two counties do not have COVID-19.

The two counties have a combined population of more than 1.4 million people, but just 321 active COVID-19 cases between them.

“I think context is so important for Oklahomans to understand these numbers,” Stitt said.

Many of the cases that do exist in Oklahoma are tied to an outbreak at a processing plant in Texas County, not broad statewide spread. Officials said aggressive testing and contact tracing is underway there.

While 218 Oklahomans are hospitalized today, the state has 4,600 hospital beds available. That surplus was created for a predicted surge that never materialized, and Stitt noted the excess capacity has been generated at great cost to the state’s health care system. Many beds were made available by temporarily banning “elective” surgeries. Those surgeries produce much of the revenue at state hospitals. Without the funds generated by those surgeries, many hospitals are struggling and citizens are going without needed treatment.

“Mercy has laid off 1,000 people,” Stitt said. “A large hospital in Tulsa laid off 600 people. We’re just not seeing the influx in the hospitals like we thought. Medicaid reimbursements from our Health Care Authority are down 15 percent—just the folks aren’t getting into the hospital.”

There are now just 932 active cases of COVID-19 in Oklahoma, Stitt said, noting that is out of a total state population of almost 4 million. Another 3,500 people have already recovered from the virus.

Stitt’s reopening plan has three phases. In Phase 2, scheduled to begin on Friday, May 15, organized sports activities and bars can reopen and operate under social distancing and sanitation protocols, funerals and weddings can resume under social distancing protocols, and children’s nursery areas in places of worship can reopen.

Chad Warmington, president and CEO of the State Chamber of Oklahoma as well as chairman of Stitt’s Bounce Back Advisory Group, hailed the news that Oklahoma will proceed to Phase 2 of the reopening plan.

“The sacrifices made by all Oklahomans over the past few weeks have paid off,” Warmington said. “Now it is time to resume living our lives with an appropriate emphasis on social distancing and personal hygiene. Oklahoma’s economy can’t recover if we don’t all actively participate in it.”

“Oklahomans are about freedom and courage and protecting themselves and their families,” Stitt said, “and I want to continue to give them that opportunity as we move forward.”

Director, Center for Independent Journalism

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