Despite coronavirus spread, governor visits packed food hall, urges Oklahomans to join him

Donate
Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt, right, stands with Lt. Gov. Matt Pinnell during a news conference on March 12 at the state Capitol. BEN FELDER/The Frontier

As sports leagues, museums, churches and other large events across the state have suspended and closed during the spread of COVID-19, Oklahoma’s governor has advised residents to continue frequenting restaurants and public gatherings. 

Practicing what he preached, Gov. Kevin Stitt even tweeted a photo of himself and his children Saturday night at a crowded Oklahoma City food hall. 

“It’s packed tonight,” Stitt said in a tweet that was deleted a few hours later. 

Two days earlier, as Oklahoma announced its third positive case of the novel coronavirus, Stitt was asked at a news conference what advice he had for Oklahomans concerned about going out over the weekend. 

Gov. Kevin Stitt’s Twitter page

“The most vulnerable, the people with underlying health issues are the ones most at risk, but yes, go out to eat, go about your normal business,” Stitt said. “We think that we have to just take a deep breath for a second. We are prepared. I wanted Oklahomans to know we are preparing our state agencies, but we do not want to create a panic or overreact in this situation.”

On Friday, Oklahoma health officials confirmed an Oklahoma County woman tested presumptive positive for COVID-19, bringing the statewide total of positive tests to four.

At Thursday’s news conference, Stitt said the state’s recommendation was for schools and events to stay open until there were reports of community spread, which is the transmission of the virus without knowing where a person became infected. 

“We have to be cautious, but again there’s three cases so far, we cannot shut down our schools at this point or big gatherings,” Stitt said. 

A text and email sent late Saturday night to the governor’s office asking if Stitt had changed his stance since Thursday was not immediately returned.

Earlier this week, a member of the Utah Jazz tested positive minutes before a game with the Thunder in Oklahoma City, which sparked a postponement of the game and then a suspension of the entire NBA season. 

Since then, most major sports leagues and events have been cancelled, including the Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon and Oklahoma’s high school basketball championship tournament. 

Dozens of museums, theaters, schools and churches have also closed across the state in an effort to reduce the spread of the coronavirus. 

On Saturday, the Oklahoma Department of Health tweeted out recommendations for social distancing, including a graphic that advised staying home, avoiding public transportation and avoiding crowded places. 

Oklahoma City council member JoBeth Hamon responded to criticize part of the advice. 

Hamon tweeted: “It’s unrealistic to advise people to just not take public transit – there are so many around our state, particularly in metros, that rely on it as a way to get to their jobs that they can’t stay home from, groceries etc. Can you coordinate w/ a transit agency for messaging?”

The department’s tweet was deleted a few hours later. 

State health officials have recommended that vulnerable residents, such as the elderly or those who have serious long-term health problems, avoid large crowds. 

But Commissioner of Health Gary Cox urged most Oklahomans to follow standard health practices. 

“We are encouraging everyone to adhere to preventive measures that we all know about, such as hand washing and avoiding those who are sick,” Cox said.

Further reading

COVID-19 in Oklahoma

Your financial support for our investigative journalism is now tax deductible. Click here to become a Friend of The Frontier.

Ben Felder

Based in Oklahoma City, Ben Felder joined The Frontier in 2019 and covers education and politics. He previously covered education and government as an investigative reporter at The Oklahoman before becoming the newspaper’s news director. Felder can be reached at ben@readfrontier.com. Follow him on Twitter @benfelder_okc
Donate