Officials issue orders to try and prevent further spread as more Oklahoma COVID-19 cases are confirmed

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Workers at the Wewoka Indian Health Center clinic screen people for signs of COVID-19 as they enter the clinic. Courtesy/Wewoka Indian Health Services 

As confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus spread throughout Oklahoma, city, state and tribal officials are ramping up efforts to slow the virus’ spread by closing offices, cancelling events, ordering the temporary closure of some businesses and issuing warnings against public gatherings.

The Oklahoma State Department of Health announced on Tuesday it had confirmed seven new cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by coronavirus, up from a confirmed 10 cases the previous day.

During a press conference on Tuesday, Gov. Stitt announced two executive orders in response to the pandemic. One of the orders recommends Oklahomans follow the CDC’s guidelines, such as avoiding discretionary travel, remaining home if a person feels ill, and practicing good hygiene.

The second executive order, an amended version of Stitt’s March 15 emergency declaration for all of the state’s 77 counties, puts several requirements on Oklahoma hospitals and health care facilities, but loosens some other state regulations.

All occupational licenses that were set to expire are extended while the executive order is in effect — 30 days — and provides an additional 14 days for license renewal after the order expires. In addition, doctors and nurses who are licensed in other states may practice medicine in Oklahoma, under the order.

The order also requires hospitals and physicians clinics in Oklahoma must respond to all critical data requests by the Oklahoma Department of Health, and those facilities must submit to OSDH each day their number of available intensive care unit beds, surgery beds, operating room beds, pediatric beds, children’s intensive care unit beds, number of ventilators, negative flow rooms and overall occupancy status.

Hospitals must also submit to OSDH the number of COVID-19 testing kits available to the hospital, the number of patients who have tested positive or are under investigation who are either in the hospital and who have been sent home to self-quarantine and the number of days worth of personal protective equipment the hospital has on hand.

The order also requires OSDH and all private labs doing COVID-19 testing to submit daily status reports to the governor’s office detailing how many tests they are capable of performing that day and the number of tests on hand that can be distributed to hospitals.

Stitt’s order also waives part of Oklahoma state law requiring an existing doctor-patient relationship before telemedicine consultations can be conducted, waives some transportation regulations affecting oversize or overweight vehicles transporting equipment and essential goods.

Numerous public events and venues were closed after Stitt’s first issued his emergency declaration Sunday because of the virus outbreak.

Under Stitt’s original executive order, many state agencies restricted access to their offices and asked employees to work from home. On Monday, the Oklahoma State Board of Education announced schools statewide would be closed until April 6.

The Oklahoma Supreme Court issued an emergency order on Monday cancelling all jury terms for the next 30 days and continuing all jury trials, extended all non-constitutionally-mandated deadlines and civil trial statute of limitations for 30 days. The order also advised all judges to reschedule all non-jury trials, hearings and pretrial settings.

The court’s order states that all emergency matters, bond hearings, arraignments and other required proceedings should be done via teleconferencing if possible, and banned people who have COVID-19, have been quarantined, or are showing possible symptoms of the disease, from entering any courtroom, court clerk’s office, judges’ offices, jury room or other room used by the courts.

Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum, who declared a civil emergency on Monday in response to the virus’s spread, ordered on Tuesday morning that most restaurants (other than those with curbside pickup, drive through or delivery), bars, gymnasiums, theaters and other public places be closed. Oklahoma City Mayor David Holt followed suit by imposing similar restrictions there on Tuesday afternoon.

Other cities, including Norman, Lawton, Enid, Ada, Muskogee and McAlester issued varying levels of closures, cancellations and restrictions in response to the spread of the virus. 

The Oklahoma Hospital Association issued a statement that many hospitals in the state are restricting visitation. The jails in Tulsa and Oklahoma counties and Oklahoma Department of Corrections facilities are also suspending in-person visitation. 

On Monday, the Chickasaw, Cherokee and Muscogee (Creek) nations announced the closure of most of their community programs, historical sites, hotels and casinos would be closed until at least March 31.

The Choctaw Nation announced late Monday that it would be closing its casinos in Durant, Grant, Pocola, McAlester, Broken Bow, Idabel and Stringtown, and suspended gaming at its travel plazas until further notice. Numerous tribal programs and events have also been cancelled.

During Stitt’s Tuesday press conference, the governor underscored the economic impacts the pandemic is likely to have on Oklahoma, and encouraged the public to remain supportive of restaurants by patronizing those businesses’ take out or delivery options.

“This is going to cause great upheaval for hard working Oklahomans, many who depend on these paychecks, who are hourly workers,” Stitt said.

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Clifton Adcock

Senior Staff Writer

A veteran investigative reporter who has covered eastern Oklahoma for more than 15 years, Clifton joined The Frontier in April 2017. A native of southeastern Oklahoma, he has covered numerous issues from criminal justice to politics for publications including the Tulsa World, the Oklahoma Gazette, and Oklahoma Watch. Clifton holds a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Oklahoma. Clifton can be reached at clifton@readfrontier.com. Follow him on Twitter @cliftonhowze
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