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Stitt urges more Oklahomans to get tested as more mobile sites spring up

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Gov. Kevin Stitt on Thursday urged more Oklahomans to get tested for COVID-19, saying hospitals and county health departments need to “loosen their standards.”

Stitt said the state has the capability of testing 15,000 people and that private labs could test more.

“If you have the symptoms of a 100.4 fever, cough, shortness of breath, or you’ve been in contact with someone who’s tested positive, you need to get tested,” Stitt said at a news briefing.

The governor’s comments came a day after he expanded the priority testing pool beyond high-risk people like health care workers and the elderly.

Mobile testing sites have been established in several counties, and Health Commissioner Gary Cox said they tested 500 people on Thursday. But after weeks of supply shortages and testing restrictions, Oklahomans may need time to absorb the new message.

“I understand that in some of the areas the demand (for tests) has not been as strong,” Cox said.

“We tried to get the word out on social media and other ways of getting the message out .. We’ll continue to work on that.”

Earlier Thursday, the governor invoked the state’s Catastrophic Health Emergency Powers Act, which will give him authority to take measures to address the pandemic in all 77 counties. The governor’s declaration requires the Oklahoma Legislature to meet in special session on Monday to consider approval.

“This unifies our statewide health response,” Stitt said. “With this order, the state can get workers and money to the front lines of our COVID-19 response as quickly as possible.”

The governor on Wednesday ordered non-essential businesses closed in every county, and extended his “safer-at-home” order through April 30 for people 65 and older and for those with health issues. The governor has declined to issue a shelter-in-place order for the state.

Oklahoma City Mayor David Holt on Thursday extended his shelter-in-place order through April 30; it had been set to expire on April 16. Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum took the same action on Wednesday.

The Oklahoma State Health Department reported Thursday that four more people died from COVID-19, bringing the total to 34. One of the deaths was a man in the 36-49 age group, only the second death in Oklahoma of a person under 50.

Confirmed cases of COVID-19 reached 879, an increase of 254% from the prior week, and were present in 52 of the 77 counties, the Health Department reported.

The numbers have been rising at a faster clip this week because of the uptick in testing.

Legislation approved by Congress and signed by President Donald Trump mandates that tests be administered at no cost to those receiving the tests.

Stitt also signed an order on Thursday that will allow public school districts to pay support staff even though school buildings are closed. Teachers are being paid, but there had been some confusion over whether districts could pay the staff.

Meanwhile, initial claims for unemployment in Oklahoma rose by 44,970 in the past week, compared to 21,926 in the previous week, according to the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission. Nationwide, 6.6 million workers filed claims, as the two-week total reached about 10 million.

“I’ve received lots of contact on long wait times to file for unemployment,” state Rep. Emily Virgin, D-Norman, said in a tweet on Thursday. “OESC is receiving additional staff and resources to deal with the increased call volume, but it will still require patience.”

Members of Oklahoma’s federal delegation have been swamped with inquiries about the $2 trillion aid package and its promises for individual checks and small business grants.

On a telephone town hall meeting on Thursday, U.S. Sen. James Lankford said he expects the individual checks to start going out in less than three weeks.

The University of Oklahoma announced that summer courses will be offered online only and that all in-person events on all three campuses would be suspended at least through July 31.

The university announced that campus residential housing will be closed until August 1, except for Kraettli and Traditions apartments.

Related Photos
The outside of the emergency entrance of the OU Medical Center is pictured in Oklahoma City,  Saturday, March 28, 2020.  [Sarah Phipps/The Oklahoman]

The outside of the emergency entrance of the OU Medical Center is pictured in Oklahoma City, Saturday, March 28, 2020. [Sarah Phipps/The Oklahoman]

<figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-d9656882f5cfad2f159e951520be1cfe.jpg" alt="Photo - The outside of the emergency entrance of the OU Medical Center is pictured in Oklahoma City, Saturday, March 28, 2020. [Sarah Phipps/The Oklahoman]" title="The outside of the emergency entrance of the OU Medical Center is pictured in Oklahoma City, Saturday, March 28, 2020. [Sarah Phipps/The Oklahoman]"><figcaption>The outside of the emergency entrance of the OU Medical Center is pictured in Oklahoma City, Saturday, March 28, 2020. [Sarah Phipps/The Oklahoman]</figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-d9656882f5cfad2f159e951520be1cfe.jpg" alt="Photo - The outside of the emergency entrance of the OU Medical Center is pictured in Oklahoma City, Saturday, March 28, 2020. [Sarah Phipps/The Oklahoman]" title="The outside of the emergency entrance of the OU Medical Center is pictured in Oklahoma City, Saturday, March 28, 2020. [Sarah Phipps/The Oklahoman]"><figcaption>The outside of the emergency entrance of the OU Medical Center is pictured in Oklahoma City, Saturday, March 28, 2020. [Sarah Phipps/The Oklahoman]</figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-52c722b9d98cd8daf8d9daa48437cccf.jpg" alt="Photo - A customer stands outside the 29th St. Tag Agency as she waits in line for service in Oklahoma City, Okla. on Tuesday, March 31, 2020. The tag agency only allows 10 people inside the location at one time. [Chris Landsberger/The Oklahoman] " title="A customer stands outside the 29th St. Tag Agency as she waits in line for service in Oklahoma City, Okla. on Tuesday, March 31, 2020. The tag agency only allows 10 people inside the location at one time. [Chris Landsberger/The Oklahoman] "><figcaption>A customer stands outside the 29th St. Tag Agency as she waits in line for service in Oklahoma City, Okla. on Tuesday, March 31, 2020. The tag agency only allows 10 people inside the location at one time. [Chris Landsberger/The Oklahoman] </figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-7e84410a1dbaf806ef97279721102e16.jpg" alt="Photo - Customers stand outside the 29th St. Tag Agency as they wait in line for service in Oklahoma City, Okla. on Tuesday, March 31, 2020. The tag agency only allows 10 people inside the location at one time. [Chris Landsberger/The Oklahoman] " title="Customers stand outside the 29th St. Tag Agency as they wait in line for service in Oklahoma City, Okla. on Tuesday, March 31, 2020. The tag agency only allows 10 people inside the location at one time. [Chris Landsberger/The Oklahoman] "><figcaption>Customers stand outside the 29th St. Tag Agency as they wait in line for service in Oklahoma City, Okla. on Tuesday, March 31, 2020. The tag agency only allows 10 people inside the location at one time. [Chris Landsberger/The Oklahoman] </figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-69dbcc8da488f965eb43e227ce80ddb1.jpg" alt="Photo - The Isabella Boutique has posted a temporarily closed sign at its location on SW 29th St. in Oklahoma City, Okla. on Tuesday, March 31, 2020. [Chris Landsberger/The Oklahoman] " title="The Isabella Boutique has posted a temporarily closed sign at its location on SW 29th St. in Oklahoma City, Okla. on Tuesday, March 31, 2020. [Chris Landsberger/The Oklahoman] "><figcaption>The Isabella Boutique has posted a temporarily closed sign at its location on SW 29th St. in Oklahoma City, Okla. on Tuesday, March 31, 2020. [Chris Landsberger/The Oklahoman] </figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-bc00f1674cdaf63b57a9815962f4c38f.jpg" alt="Photo - Customers leave the La Michoacana Meat Market on SW 29th St. in Oklahoma City, Okla. on Tuesday, March 31, 2020. [Chris Landsberger/The Oklahoman] " title="Customers leave the La Michoacana Meat Market on SW 29th St. in Oklahoma City, Okla. on Tuesday, March 31, 2020. [Chris Landsberger/The Oklahoman] "><figcaption>Customers leave the La Michoacana Meat Market on SW 29th St. in Oklahoma City, Okla. on Tuesday, March 31, 2020. [Chris Landsberger/The Oklahoman] </figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-87a6a732c8d67c15b9abced1676c5166.jpg" alt="Photo - A person rides a recumbent bike down S. Blackwelder Ave. in Oklahoma City, Okla. on Tuesday, March 31, 2020. [Chris Landsberger/The Oklahoman] " title="A person rides a recumbent bike down S. Blackwelder Ave. in Oklahoma City, Okla. on Tuesday, March 31, 2020. [Chris Landsberger/The Oklahoman] "><figcaption>A person rides a recumbent bike down S. Blackwelder Ave. in Oklahoma City, Okla. on Tuesday, March 31, 2020. [Chris Landsberger/The Oklahoman] </figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-163cf8122003cff6420ac2bebfeeb64a.jpg" alt="Photo - A customer walks into the La Michoacana Meat Market on SW 29th St. in Oklahoma City, Okla. on Tuesday, March 31, 2020. [Chris Landsberger/The Oklahoman] " title="A customer walks into the La Michoacana Meat Market on SW 29th St. in Oklahoma City, Okla. on Tuesday, March 31, 2020. [Chris Landsberger/The Oklahoman] "><figcaption>A customer walks into the La Michoacana Meat Market on SW 29th St. in Oklahoma City, Okla. on Tuesday, March 31, 2020. [Chris Landsberger/The Oklahoman] </figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-e2e77bbb4bdbfdb3be37d6e1ed90c238.jpg" alt="Photo - Car drive past the empty parking lots of businesses that are closed on SW 29th St. in Oklahoma City, Okla. on Tuesday, March 31, 2020. [Chris Landsberger/The Oklahoman] " title="Car drive past the empty parking lots of businesses that are closed on SW 29th St. in Oklahoma City, Okla. on Tuesday, March 31, 2020. [Chris Landsberger/The Oklahoman] "><figcaption>Car drive past the empty parking lots of businesses that are closed on SW 29th St. in Oklahoma City, Okla. on Tuesday, March 31, 2020. [Chris Landsberger/The Oklahoman] </figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-171a3e5821cde097e71b0bfe60b27e04.jpg" alt="Photo - The Botanica San Cipriano has posted a closed sign at its location on SW 29th St. in Oklahoma City, Okla. on Tuesday, March 31, 2020. [Chris Landsberger/The Oklahoman] " title="The Botanica San Cipriano has posted a closed sign at its location on SW 29th St. in Oklahoma City, Okla. on Tuesday, March 31, 2020. [Chris Landsberger/The Oklahoman] "><figcaption>The Botanica San Cipriano has posted a closed sign at its location on SW 29th St. in Oklahoma City, Okla. on Tuesday, March 31, 2020. [Chris Landsberger/The Oklahoman] </figcaption></figure>
Chris Casteel

Chris Casteel began working for The Oklahoman's Norman bureau in 1982 while a student at the University of Oklahoma. Casteel covered the police beat, federal courts and the state Legislature in Oklahoma City. From 1990 through 2016, he was the... Read more ›

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