Stitt deletes tweet, but stands by call to ‘keep living life’

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Kevin Stitt listens to a question during a Governor candidate forum at First United Methodist Church in Tulsa on Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2018. DYLAN GOFORTH/The Frontier

Update: On the evening of March 15, Governor Kevin Stitt declared a state of emergency for all of Oklahoma’s 77 counties, and  Oklahoma City Mayor David Holt declared a state of emergency for Oklahoma City over COVID-19.

After deleting a tweet of him enjoying dinner in a crowded Oklahoma City food hall, Gov. Kevin Stitt’s office said he has not changed his position that healthy Oklahomans should continue to go out to eat and attend events during the coronavirus pandemic. 

Oklahoma is also one of two states where the governor has not declared a state of emergency or public health emergency over COVID-19, which frees up funding for cities and counties.

“He still feels like it’s important that if you’re healthy and not at high risk, (you should) support our local businesses as best we can and keep living life,” said Charlie Hannema, the governor’s spokesperson. “Does the governor want sick people going out in public? Of course not.”

As cities and states across the nation take precaution amid the spread of COVID-19, Stitt said earlier this week that he wanted Oklahomans to take standard health precautions but continue to go out in public.

The governor’s office did not have a comment on the lack of a state of emergency declaration, except to say the situation continues to be closely monitored. 

The Oklahoma State Department of Health on Sunday reported three new positive COVID-19 cases, bringing the states’ total to seven cases.

The new positives tests came from Tulsa, Payne and Cleveland counties. The OSDH now lists three cases in Tulsa and one each from Payne, Cleveland, Jackson and Oklahoma Counties. Five of the positive test results were from females, and two from males, the OSDH said. 

Only one of the positive tests came from a person over the age of 65, according to the OSDH. Three positive results came from Oklahomans aged 50-65, and three from people aged 18-49. The department so far is not identifying exact ages or cities of those who’ve tested positive.

Stitt has advised schools to remain open while some other states have implemented statewide closures. 

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, also a Republican, said his state’s schools may remain closed for the rest of the school year.  warned Sunday, as parents and children across the country prepared for closings that are set to begin this week.

“So we’ve informed superintendents that while we’ve closed schools for three weeks, the odds are this is going to be a lot longer. And it would not surprise me at all if schools did not open again this year,” DeWine told CNN on Sunday

Gov. Kevin Stitt’s Twitter page

Stitt’s Saturday evening tweet featured a selfie with his children in the middle of a crowded food hall.

The tweet was later deleted following immense criticism that Stitt was modeling poor behavior during a pandemic that has resulted in seven COVID-19 cases in Oklahoma, according to the state Department of Health.

Hannema said Stitt’s tweet was deleted because it was being misinterpreted. 

“There’s a lot of different guidance out there and we didn’t feel we could provide enough context on what is going on here as (the tweet) was going out nationally,” Hannema said.

Hannema said the governor has not changed his schedule, which includes several public events a day, nor has Stitt exhibited any symptoms.  

“I haven’t heard him cough once,” Hannema said.

Hannema said the governor’s office is not aware of Stitt coming in contact with anyone exhibiting coronavirus symptoms, nor has he been tested.

Events, concerts and church services have been cancelled across the state and many Oklahomans are remaining in their homes in an effort to not spread the virus. 

Tulsa Mayor GT Bynum announced on Saturday a ban on gatherings of more than 250 people at city of Tulsa properties, as well as special event permits issued for events of 250 or more

Bynum said that although there’s no evidence of community spread in Tulsa, he’s “mindful that so little is known about how COVID-19 is spread.”

Because COVID-19 is a new virus, tests are not available at every drug store and doctor’s office for anyone who wants to make sure they are in the clear. This inherently reduces our ability to effectively track community spread.

“Limiting event sizes will not entirely prevent contagion in Tulsa,” Bynum said. “But it can slow it, allowing our health care system to better assist those who need help. Prevention starts with each of us: washing our hands and staying away from others when sick.”

Oklahoma City Mayor David Holt also tweeted from a restaurant on Saturday, and defended the tweet amid criticism saying on Twitter that “not all cities from around the world are taking the same actions at the same times.”

“In our case, we still don’t have an incident of local spread,” Holt tweeted. “Should that occur, I assure you that will absolutely figure into decision-making.”

Holt, in a statement, told The Frontier  he is relying “entirely on the advice of our public health officials.  Working with them, we have worked to cancel or close virtually all the events or places where large groups of people might gather.

“Their advice has not yet extended to questions of smaller gatherings or being in stores or restaurants. Of course, anyone going anywhere should follow basic principles of distance and hand-washing. And there is no doubt the advice of public health professionals will evolve as the situation evolves. Not all cities in the world are on the same timeline. What we have done already in the absence of local spread is unprecedented, but there is no question that evidence of local spread will escalate things further.”

Frontier staff writers Kassie McClung and Dylan Goforth contributed to this report

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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
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