Governor to end few remaining COVID restrictions
Gov. Kevin Stitt announced Thursday he will roll back his few remaining COVID-19 restrictions, including limits on public gatherings and a mandate that masks be worn in state buildings.
Stitt will lift Oklahoma’s COVID-19 restrictions despite the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention saying it's too soon for states to start undoing virus prevention measures.
The governor’s announcement came nearly one year after Stitt imposed his first COVID restrictions at the start of the pandemic. Stitt said he will issue a new executive order Friday to undo the restrictions.
With the order, the following restrictions will be eliminated:
Limits on public gatherings.
Attendance limits at indoor sporting events.
A mandate that state employees working and visitors to state buildings wear masks.
“The standard for normal cannot be zero (COVID-19) cases,” Stitt said in a news conference. “The standard for normal is freedom — the freedom to worship, the freedom to earn a paycheck, the freedom to visit your loved ones in nursing homes, the freedom to send your kids to school in person and the freedom to protect your family.”
Last week, Stitt praised Texas Gov. Greg Abbott for lifting the state’s mask mandate and rolling back business restrictions.
Most of the governor’s COVID-19 restrictions expired when Oklahoma businesses fully reopened in June. However, a few restrictions remained from when the state saw a surge of COVID-19 hospitalizations toward the end of 2020.
Oklahomans can continue wearing masks, and are even encouraged to do so in some settings, Stitt said. The governor also leaned on his oft-used mantra that Oklahomans should exercise “personal responsibility" to reduce the spread of the virus.
After Stitt's announcement, Oklahoma State Medical Association President George Monks applauded localities that have kept their mask ordinances in place and urged residents to get vaccinated as soon as possible.
“There is no doubt that the state has made tremendous progress and is one of the nation’s leaders in vaccination efforts," he said in a statement. "But letting up on our efforts to battle COVID now is like a football player spiking the ball at the five-yard line. We are nearing the goal, but we are not there yet."
Local health professionals have said Oklahomans should continue wearing masks in public, even after getting vaccinated.
Oklahoma City and Tulsa still have mask mandates in effect. Oklahoma City's will stay in effect at least through April 30.
Asked about the CDC's recommendation that states wait longer before lifting restrictions, Stitt cited Oklahoma's improving COVID-19 picture.
He noted that the number of new daily COVID-19 infections is lower than it was over the summer.
The number of Oklahomans hospitalized due to the virus has also dropped dramatically, to the point that all of the state's hospital regions are in tier one of the state's four-phased hospital surge plan, which Stitt said is an encouraging sign.
Reflecting on the pandemic, Stitt said he stands by the decisions he's made in the past year.
“I believe that our team made the right decisions for Oklahomans,” he said.
More than 430,000 Oklahomans contracted COVID-19 and 7,433 died from the virus.
Stitt came under fire from medical professionals for being one of a few governors that did not issue a statewide mask mandate to reduce the spread of COVID-19. At times, the White House Coronavirus Task Force, under the Trump administration, also recommended Oklahoma implement a widespread mask mandate.
Oklahoma has consistently ranked among the top states for the number of COVID-19 vaccines administered per capita.
Roughly 1.3 million vaccine doses have been administered in Oklahoma and 400,000 Oklahomans have received both shots in the series. Health Commissioner Dr. Lance Frye encouraged all Oklahomans to get vaccinated when the opportunity arises.
It's not clear yet whether leaders of the Oklahoma House and Senate, who control most of the space in the state Capitol, will undo the building's mask requirement that hasn't been enforced rigorously.