The fallout from Gov. Kevin Stitt’s announcement Wednesday morning that he had tested positive for the coronavirus could extend far beyond embarrassing headlines and jokes about his becoming the first governor in the country to test positive for the virus.
There has already been a ripple effect following Stitt’s positive coronavirus test. Lt. Gov Matt Pinnell, who attended a meeting on Tuesday alongside Stitt and others, announced on Wednesday he would be tested for the coronavirus as well.
Stitt said on Wednesday his family had been tested for the coronavirus, results of which had come back negative. The governor’s office said Stitt’s staffers and cabinet would be tested as well, though they did not say if they had received the results of those tests as of Wednesday afternoon. Stitt’s director of communications, Charlie Hannema, told The Frontier that the governor’s office does “not comment on the personal health information of anyone without their permission.”
“I can tell you that we are not aware of anyone who has been in close contact with the governor in recent days testing positive, but that is about as specific as I’m able to go to protect their privacy now or in the future,” Hannema said in an email.
Hannema also told The Frontier that Stitt’s office staff would work remotely for the rest of the week.
“I don’t want to say with certainty that the entire staff is technically ‘self-isolating’ because we have a large team and people have different levels of contact with the governor and with each other,” Hannema said. “Senior staff members and supervisors have been communicating guidance to their teams.”
Stitt said during Wednesday’s press conference that he is tested for the coronavirus “periodically,” and that he had been tested on Tuesday and gotten the positive result back that same day. Hannema said the governor’s office “doesn’t comment on the specifics of Governor Stitt’s testing schedule beyond what he offered today.”
“I can confirm he has been tested multiple times over the past few months,” Hannema said.
One Tulsa restaurant, Kai : Vietnamese Cuisine Tulsa, said on social media not long after Stitt’s press conference Wednesday that it would close “until further notice” following the governor’s announcement. Stitt ate at the restaurant last week, and was photographed by the restaurant hugging two employees while unmasked (the employees were masked in the photograph).
“Kai will be closed until further notice with the announcement of Governor Stitts (sic) positive covid test results. He visited our establishment last week and we want to be proactive and shut down to get the staff tested and get our restaurant professionally disinfected.
Thank you for understanding,” they wrote on Facebook.
Stitt has eschewed masks since the beginning stages of the pandemic, and for months has told Oklahomans that mask-wearing, an act that scientists say can drastically reduce the risk of catching and passing on the virus, is essentially up to them.
And due to the way the virus works, someone who has contracted the coronavirus may pass it on without ever having known they had the virus in the first place. Health experts have said that wearing a mask is one of the most effective ways to flatten the rate of infections at the local level.
Oklahoma for the last two days has reported record numbers of new coronavirus cases. In that respect, Stitt’s announcement on Wednesday may not have come as a surprise — the Republican governor was one of 1,075 people who were reported to have contracted the virus in that day’s COVID-19 report from the Oklahoma State Department of Health.
But of course all eyes are on the governor, who acknowledged as much on June 30 when he wore a mask for the first time during a press conference. Stitt told reporters that day that he recommended Oklahomans wear masks in places where social distancing is not possible.
Pictures began circulating on Twitter following Stitt’s press conference of the governor inside an Oklahoma City Walmart over the weekend. Stitt also attended the funeral of Tulsa Police Sgt. Craig Johnson on Thursday at a large Tulsa church. Photographs from inside the event showed hundreds if not thousands of people packed inside the auditorium, many of whom were not wearing masks.
My brother took this picture of Stitt on Sunday at a grocery store in OKC. No mask, no social distancing, no leadership pic.twitter.com/LwsFOtQybs
— Dan Bewley (@TheDanBewley) July 15, 2020
The Tulsa Health Department last month released a graphic on what it refers to as “The Serious Seven” — seven places most likely to contribute to the spread of the coronavirus. It includes “faith-based activities, gyms, weddings, house gatherings, bars, funerals, and other small events.”
Health experts have said throughout the pandemic that the coronavirus is most likely to spread in interior settings where social distancing is not possible and masks are not worn.
Stitt, unmasked, attended President Donald Trump’s rally last month in Tulsa, an event that the Tulsa Health Department warned could be a “super-spreader.” Multiple Trump staffers tested positive for the coronavirus before the event, which ultimately saw far few attendees than expected.
Even so, local health experts have said the rally likely has contributed to the local spike in coronavirus cases. Oklahoma State Health Department commissioner Lance Frye said on Wednesday it was unlikely Stitt contracted the coronavirus from Trump’s rally, given that it happened nearly a month ago.