Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt, who has championed “personal responsibility” over a mask mandate amid the coronavirus pandemic, announced on Wednesday he had tested positive for COVID-19.
Stitt, who early into the pandemic stated his belief that he wanted it to be “business as usual,” is believed to be the first governor in the country to announce a positive COVID-19 test. Mississippi Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann announced a positive test result earlier this month. In the governor’s first virtual news conference in months, he appeared via video from his home Wednesday morning.
Stitt said he is tested for the coronavirus “periodically,” and told reporters he felt “a little achy” but that he “really felt fine.” Stitt said he had quarantined himself at home away from his family, and that his wife and kids had tested negative.
“I was pretty shocked that I was the first governor to get it (coronavirus),” Stitt told reporters after his test Tuesday came back positive.
Stitt said he is working with contact tracers in an effort to determine where he was infected and who he was in contact with.
Stitt’s announcement came as Oklahoma has seen its positive test results skyrocket in the wake of its full reopening in early June. On Wednesday, the state announced 1,075 new cases, the highest single-day increase since the first COVID-19 case appeared in Oklahoma in March, and the first time the state exceeded a caseload of 1,000.
Hospitalizations have also been trending upward, as the state reported 561 patients were hospitalized with the disease on Tuesday, which was just one patient short of the all-time high on March 31.
Stitt has rarely worn a mask in public, even around large groups of people. The governor has said though he encourages masks and that Oklahomans should “consider” wearing one, he would not issue a statewide mandate for their use.
During his news conference Wednesday, Stitt reiterated that he would not consider a mask mandate and that slowing the spread of the virus was about “personal responsibility.”
Oklahoma would not be “mask-shamers” Stitt said at a July 10 news conference at the state Capitol. However, he has supported local governments enacting their own.
“We just think that you can’t go down that road, and so I’m going to protect the freedoms in Oklahoma,” Stitt said. “We’re not going to mandate (masks) in the state of Oklahoma, and we’re not going to be mask-shamers, either.”
That July 10 news conference, which was held two days after Oklahoma reported a then-record number of positive coronavirus tests, is the only news conference Stitt has held this month. Before that, he had last held a news conference on June 30 alongside Interim Health Commissioner Lance Frye. Stitt attended the news conference in a mask, the first and only time he’s worn one during such an event.
In early March, at the beginning of the pandemic as sports leagues, museums, churches and other large events across the state were halted, Stitt was adamant that Oklahoma continue “business as usual.” He urged Oklahomans to continue frequenting businesses and restaurants, and even tweeted a photo of himself alongside his sons at a packed Oklahoma City food hall with the hashtags #supportlocal and #OklaProud.
But within weeks he had begun business closures in some of the counties most affected by the virus, and in April his shutdown order had been put in place. Dubbed, “safer at home,” Stitt’s plan wasn’t a true “shelter in place” order as some other states had enacted. Oklahoma’s case numbers were still low at that point and Stitt has long maintained that he would base his decisions on his reading of Oklahoma’s data rather than copying what was going on in other states. He often referenced New York, which early on had thousands of cases and hundreds of deaths every week, as an example of a state whose strict actions he would not attempt to replicate.
By mid-May, Stitt had started the process of pulling back on his business shutdowns, and on June 1 announced the state was fully reopened. Positive COVID-19 test results in the state began to rise in the ensuing weeks leading up to President Donald Trump’s campaign rally in Tulsa on June 19, which an unmasked Stitt attended.
Hours before the start of the rally, Stitt said he remained confident the nation’s first major indoor event since the beginning of the pandemic would not lead to a new outbreak.
“My question back to those folks that want people to bunker in place is when is the right time to open back up?” Stitt told reporters outside the BOK Center, where Trump’s rally was held.
Tulsa Health Department Bruce Dart said earlier this month that the rally “likely” contributed to a spike of cases in the county.
Stitt said on Wednesday that he was confident he was not infected at the rally.
Coronavirus cases in the state began to rapidly rise in early July, and hospitalizations, which had declined in April and May, began to rise to some of their highest levels since early on in the pandemic.
Stitt said recently he was not considering the possibility of once again shuttering businesses across the state, even as daily reports of new coronavirus test results dwarf the levels seen in early March when businesses were first closed. Stitt said on June 25 that Oklahomans “have to learn how to deal with” the coronavirus, and said “Closing down with 277 in the hospital, that’s not a part of the discussion at this point.”
Hospitalizations have almost doubled since that statement.