Culture and the Family
Ray Carter | July 15, 2020
Stitt contracts COVID, says Oklahoma will remain open
Gov. Kevin Stitt announced Wednesday that he has tested positive for COVID-19, but said that doesn’t mean he now thinks Oklahoma should reverse course by forcing business closures again, noting the virus will be a fact of life for years and Oklahoma is prepared to handle the disease.
“I keep saying it: This is something that could be with us for the next 24 months,” Stitt said. “And I don’t think Americans—and Oklahomans particularly—want to bunker in place for the next 24 months.”
Stitt said he was tested on July 14 after feeling mild symptoms and the results came back positive. The governor said he simply felt achy. Overall, he said he feels “fine, really.”
“I didn’t have the traditional symptoms of COVID,” Stitt said, and stressed that Oklahomans should get tested anytime they feel ill.
The governor’s wife and children have all been tested. None have contracted the virus.
It is highly unlikely Stitt contracted the virus while attending a Tulsa campaign rally for President Trump on June 20 since symptoms typically appear within about two weeks of exposure. Stitt said he would not have been contagious before July 11.
While Stitt is among the increasing number of Oklahomans who have tested positive for the virus in recent days, officials said the state health system remains amply prepared to handle a surge.
“With our 5,000 beds, we’d have to have 100,000 cases in 14 days in order to reach capacity,” said interim Oklahoma Commissioner of Health Lance Frye. “So, from where we are now, we’d have to have 7,200 cases each day for 14 days before we’d reach capacity with our hospital system.”
“That’s plenty of runway,” Stitt said, noting there were just 9,000 new cases in Oklahoma over the last 14 days, a rate far below the level that would overwhelm the health care system.
With the health care system able to treat those with the virus, there is no reason to again force business closures across Oklahoma, Stitt said.
“Going back and bunkering in place doesn’t remove it, either,” Stitt said. “It just continues to flatten the curve. And once you do start opening back up, you will see some more positive cases. When you slow things back down, all you are doing is delaying.”
Stitt said he is “not thinking about a mask mandate at all,” although he said private businesses and local municipalities remain free to require masks if officials feel it is necessary.
The governor said it is better to rely on Oklahomans’ sense of personal responsibility than try to force mask-wearing.
“The other thing that’s problematic that people don’t talk about is how do you enforce it?” Stitt said. “Are we going to put people in jail? What if the mask falls underneath somebody’s nose? What if it was not the mask that you expected them to wear? They needed a N95 and they didn’t have an N95. You just open up a big can of worms.”
Legislative Democrats have been among the most vocal proponents of a statewide mask mandate, and several renewed their call for a mandate after Stitt announced he had tested positive for COVID-19.
Rep. Monroe Nichols, D-Tulsa, wished Stitt a “speedy recovery” on Twitter, but added that Stitt’s “positive test is a perfect example of being too casual with a deadly disease. We are far past time for a mask mandate and the governor should act to do it today …”
Rep. Forrest Bennett, D-Oklahoma City, similarly tweeted that Stitt “continues to give cover to those who refuse to wear masks. You're right, Governor, that no one wants to shelter in place for 24 more months. MASKS can help us avoid that.”
While recent infection trends have alarmed some citizens, the state outlook today is far better than what officials projected only months ago.
A model prepared by the state epidemiologist on March 24 predicted Oklahoma would suffer roughly 30,000 deaths from COVID-19 by July 21, Frye said. As of July 15, the actual death count was 432.
“We went from our crisis mode to where now we’re in a risk-management mode,” Frye said. “We’re assessing the data daily. I’m talking to the hospital association and the hospital CEOs. They’re all assuring me that we have capacity still, that we’re doing well.”
Oklahomans between the ages of 18 and 35 now represent the largest group of those testing positive for the virus. That demographic is also among the least likely to experience severe repercussions from the virus, unlike those over age 65.
Although the raw number of positive tests has increased in recent weeks, Frye noted the percentage of people testing positive for COVID-19 in Oklahoma remains below the national average.
In addition, the percentage of Oklahomans who test positive and then require hospitalization has declined in the last few weeks, Frye said, which he attributed in part to the large share of young adults contracting the virus.
“The good news is the death rate is really coming down fast,” Stitt said, “because we are protecting the most vulnerable.”
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.