Stitt says closing businesses again ‘not a part of the discussion’ as coronavirus cases rise

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Gov. Kevin Stitt speaks to the media on Saturday, June 20, 2020, outside of the BOK Center while awaiting the arrival of President Donald Trump. DYLAN GOFORTH/The Frontier

Amid a spike of COVID-19 cases that has some states pulling back on reopening plans, Gov. Kevin Stitt said closing businesses again in Oklahoma isn’t even under consideration. 

“We are so far away from talking about this, again we just have to learn how to live with it,” Stitt said Thursday about implementing new social distancing restrictions.

Oklahoma, like many states, has seen a significant increase in confirmed cases in recent weeks, with the seven-day average of new cases in the state nearly tripling since the first of the month. 

On Thursday, the Oklahoma State Medical Association called on Stitt to require the wearing of masks in public spaces and businesses. 

The University of Oklahoma also announced it was implementing a mask requirement for all staff, students and visitors effective immediately. 

Stitt said wearing a mask may be a good idea but it wasn’t something he would require. 

“I’m always reluctant to mandate things because it’s about freedom, it’s about personal responsibility,” Stitt said. 

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said Thursday he was pausing his state’s reopening process and issued an executive order suspending elective medical procedures as more than 4,300 people are in the hospital due to the coronavirus. 

This week, the mayors of Oklahoma City and Tulsa said returning to some social distancing restrictions might be necessary if rates continue to climb.  

“If hospitalizations continue to rise at the rates seen over the last few days, or if deaths return to the rates seen previously, we will have little choice but to roll back to earlier phases of our re-opening,” Oklahoma City Mayor David Holt said Wednesday.

But Stitt said the spike in cases has not worried him because the state’s hospital capacity remains in good shape. 

“Closing down with 277 in the hospital, that’s not a part of the discussion at this point,” Stitt said. 

Oklahoma started its reopening plan 63 days ago after many businesses were ordered to close and large gatherings were prohibited. 

Since then, nearly half of the new cases are from Oklahomans under the age of 35, Stitt said Thursday.

Stitt attended a rally in Tulsa last week for President Donald Trump, which was one of the first large indoor events in the nation since sporting events, conventions and concerts were cancelled in the early days of the pandemic. Thousands of people attended the rally, with many sitting inside Tulsa’s BOK Center for several hours.

The state Health Department has recommended people who attend large events be tested and Stitt said he would be open to receiving another COVID-19 test, of which he has already had “three or four.”

During Saturday’s rally Trump said he had asked officials to slow down the number of tests in order to stop the rise in confirmed cases. 

But Stitt said he disagreed with a pullback on testing. 

“We want everybody to get tested,” Stitt said. 

Stitt said the state’s 88 mobile testing sites remained opened and there were talks about opening new testing sites at Walgreens pharmacies. 

He also said the state might utilize the company that performed testing for the Trump rally, which said it could perform 20,000 tests a day.

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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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