Culture and the Family
Ray Carter | June 30, 2020
State to provide county data on COVID-19 threat
Oklahomans will soon be able to review color-coded, county-level data that shows COVID-19 risk in their local area, Gov. Kevin Stitt announced Tuesday.
“I will be issuing an executive order directing Commissioner (Lance) Frye and the Health Department to develop a color-coded system for our state that will show Oklahomans the data on a county-by-county basis and give them the freedoms they need to make decisions to protect their health and their families,” Stitt said. “Our data shows COVID-19 has affected Oklahomans differently than we expected. 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.”
Stitt warned that Oklahomans may be dealing with the virus for the next two years and said the county maps will be part of the ongoing effort to help citizens adapt to this new reality.
The maps, in which different colors will indicate different levels of risk, tie into a Trump administration effort to boost public information on the virus.
Stitt also encouraged Oklahomans to wear masks in public when social distancing is not possible, but said he would not impose a state mandate, noting the associated logistical challenges.
“We’re not going to mandate masks through the state of Oklahoma,” Stitt said. “When you start mandating things, the very next question is, well, how do you enforce it?”
The governor said $4.2 million in federal COVID funding will be used to buy mobile test units to help with testing and screening, and up to $35 million will be provided to long-term care facilities through $15,000 grants that can pay for cleaning supplies, telehealth, and personal protective equipment.
Oklahoma hospitalizations for COVID-19 remain 40 percent below the state peak, which was hit in early April, and hospitalizations have remained essentially flat throughout the weeks since the state re-opened. There were 306 people hospitalized for COVID-19 on April 24, compared to 315 on June 30. The state has roughly 5,000 hospital beds available to treat those patients.
Oklahoma continues to have one of the nation’s lowest rates of COVID-19 infections, ranking 42nd out of the 50 states in infections per 100,000 population. And, Stitt said, 71 percent of COVID-19 infections recorded in Oklahoma since the state began reopening 68 days ago have been younger than age 50. The death rate for that group is just 0.8 percent.
In June, roughly 40 percent of new COVID-19 cases were among people age 35 and younger. Interim Oklahoma Commissioner of Health Lance Frye said infected individuals in that group are at low risk for severe complications, and many are even asymptomatic. As a result, he encouraged citizens to get COVID-tested before and after attending large gatherings due to the potential for asymptomatic carriers to spread the virus.
Stitt said the challenge now is for Oklahomans to take sensible precautions to reduce exposing the most vulnerable group—those age 65 and up—and to generally limit exposure by observing social distancing, hand washing, and mask wearing when necessary.
He predicted Oklahomans will continue to voluntarily take such steps so the economy can regain its footing and life can more quickly return to normal.
“With the Health Department, my directive to them is to continue to provide as transparent data as we can to Oklahomans, give you all the facts, and then give Oklahomans the freedom to make the right decisions, the best decisions, for their personal health, for their families, and for their businesses,” Stitt said.
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. As a reporter for The Journal Record, Carter received 12 Carl Rogan Awards in four years—including awards for investigative reporting, general news reporting, feature writing, spot news reporting, business reporting, and sports reporting. While at The Oklahoman, he was the recipient of several awards, including first place in the editorial writing category of the Associated Press/Oklahoma News Executives Carl Rogan Memorial News Excellence Competition for an editorial on the history of racism in the Oklahoma legislature.