As COVID cases surge, Stitt cracks down on bars, restaurants
Gov. Kevin Stitt on Monday announced new restrictions on bars and restaurants as the number of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations continued to surge across the state.
In a news conference at the state Capitol, Stitt also announced a new requirement that all state employees must wear masks while at work.
The restrictions mark the first the governor has implemented as Oklahoma has seen an explosion of new COVID-19 cases and hospitals filling up with with COVID-19 patients.
Effective Thursday, bars and restaurants must adhere to an 11 p.m. curfew, except for to-go and drive-thru orders. Bars and restaurants will be required to close by 11 p.m., with no in-person food or alcohol served afterwards.
It's hard for patrons to distance themselves, especially in bars late at night, Stitt said.
Restaurants will also have to space out all tables six feet apart. For booths and other seating that cannot be spaced out, dividers must be installed between seating areas.
Asked whether he considered limiting capacity in bars in restaurants instead of the requirement that seating be spaced out, Stitt said limiting capacity could be difficult because businesses vary in size.
The Oklahoma State Department of Health has some authority to step in if bars and restaurants do not comply with the requirements.
Stitt implored Oklahomans to "buckle down" and change their habits in order to curb the growing number of COVID-19 cases occurring in Oklahoma and across the country.
"We’re all going to have to make sacrifices one way or another, but they’re sacrifices worth making to keep everyone healthy, keep our businesses open safely and to keep our kids back in school in person," he said.
The governor cited the surge in COVID-19 cases and a 19% increase in patients hospitalized due to the virus in the past week as the catalyst for the new restrictions. On Monday, the state reported a record 1,381 hospitalized COVID-19 patients, with 390 of those in the intensive care unit.
Health Commissioner Lance Frye said the explosion of new infections cannot be attributed to any one outbreak or area. It's community spread of the virus, he said.
The Oklahoma Restaurant Association supports Stitt's actions and plans to build on them, said Jim Hopper, the group's president and CEO.
"The governor has set the example by requiring masks for his state employees," Hopper said. "We will follow that example and ask and request that all restaurant workers wear masks during their shifts as well as those times when they’re not on their shifts." Many servers and other restaurant employees in Oklahoma City already wear masks at work due to the city ordinance requiring masks indoors.
Stitt also announced all state employees and visitors to state facilities will be required to wear masks inside state buildings. The mask mandate for the roughly 33,000 state employees takes effect Tuesday and does include some exceptions.
Asked if he thought the new mandates go far enough, Stitt said, "we think these are great steps." He also reiterated his opposition to imposing a statewide mask mandate.
Oklahoma State Medical Association President Dr. George Monks praised the "small changes" Stitt unveiled Monday, but said the governor could be doing more to keep all Oklahomans safe.
"While protecting state employees is a laudable goal, we need to do more to protect all Oklahomans," Monks said in a statement. "Our health care system is already stretched thin and, with holiday gatherings coming up, things are likely to get worse before they get better. OSMA will continue to call for more measures that can help mitigate this virus, including universal masking and efforts to attract nurses and physicians from other states to come to Oklahoma."
Stitt issued an executive order detailing the new mandates.
- Related to this story
- Article: Watch: Gov. Stitt, health commissioner hold news conference on Oklahoma COVID cases