After a second consecutive weekend of record-breaking COVID-19 cases, Gov. Kevin Stitt decided to implement new measures to contend with the outbreaks across the Sooner State.
Executive orders issued Monday called for all bars and restaurants to close at 11 p.m. except for curbside or drive-thru windows. Tables in restaurants also have to be placed at least six feet apart or have sanitized dividers in place.
Stitt also requires all state employees and visitors to state buildings to wear facial coverings in common areas and near their coworkers in state buildings starting Nov. 17. This order does not include the State Capitol.
Stopping short of a statewide mask mandate, the Governor made no mention of a possible lockdown in the future. He also had the backing of Oklahoma Restaurant Association.
“The Oklahoma Restaurant Association and its members want to do our part and at the same time allow our industry to operate safely to protect the health of our employees and customers,” said President and CEO Jim Hopper. “We are all in this together and our industry is ready to do its part.”
The Governor’s executive orders came as the entire nation is dealing with a surge in new cases of COVID-19. While some states have inched closer to shutdown or shelter-in-place orders, Stitt has continued to resist the pull and is putting the onus on the people of Oklahoma. “These aren’t our first actions, and they won’t be our last,” Stitt said. “Based on the data in our state – specifically the rise in hospitalizations – now is the time to do more. Each one of us has a role to play in this fight. I need every Oklahoman to think about what they can do to slow the spread.”
Brandie Combs, District 5 Regional Director for the Oklahoma Health Department, agrees that solution to stopping the spread of COVID-19 has always been in the hands of the people. She said there would be no need for a possible shutdown if citizens had been adhering to the guidelines of social distancing, washing their hands and wearing masks.
“We can do this without government stepping in,” Combs said. We just need cooperation, and we need buy-in.”
Numbers suggest that the buy-in Combs is looking for won’t be happening anytime soon. During the past weekend almost 10,000 Oklahomans tested positive for COVID-19. That includes 3,925 on Sunday and another 2,700 Monday.
Those numbers would normally be stunning to see, except for the fact the state set a record Nov. 7 with 4,500 positive cases. At that point even professionals like Combs have a difficult time believing what they were seeing.
“Oh my goodness, it was shocking. I have to say the first thought was something went wrong with the data,” she said. “This can’t possibly be accurate. But then as the more we dug into it and our epidemiologist at the state office and all of the data people, I mean, it was accurate, and we did have a huge number and we continue to have a huge number.”
As of Nov. 17, more than 157,000 Oklahoma residents have tested positive for COVID-19 since March. That includes 1,500 deaths.
Comanche County has seen its totals rise to 3,574 cases and 27 deaths while Jackson County has tallied 1,534 cases and 22 deaths as of Tuesday morning.
“Public health initiatives are about people hearing the advice coming from physicians or public health professionals and acting upon that advice,” said Combs. “We already know the controversy with mask ordinances and things like that. So, just the hesitation to do what’s being asked is obviously a problem.”
Sunday the U.S. passed the 11 million mark for positive COVID-19 cases. It took just six days to make the jump from 10 million.
The seven-day average of COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. reached 1,156 on Sunday. That is the highest it’s been since May 25, according to real-time statics reference website Worldometer.
“Our weekly average of cases just continually rise. And unfortunately, we’re seeing more deaths,” Combs said. “We’re at a point with this virus and this pandemic that if we don’t have people come on board with the mitigation efforts, with those prevention strategies that we’re talking about, we’re not going to be able to get it under control. And my fear is that our healthcare systems will not be able to sustain the demand that they have placed upon them.”
Yet, large groups of people around the state and country continue to ignore the guidelines that have been set forth by the CDC, the World Health Organization and local health agencies.
“We cannot deny the impact that it’s having on our communities, on our healthcare systems, on our families, businesses,” Combs said. “There’s really nowhere that this virus has not reached.”