OKLAHOMA CITY — All non-essential businesses in 19 counties must close by the end of Wednesday, Oklahoma’s governor announced Tuesday.
The closures are part of a series of sweeping actions taken by Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt on Tuesday to curtail the spread of COVID-19 as the number of cases and deaths continued to tick upward. As of Tuesday afternoon, 109 cases and three deaths were confirmed.
Stitt also banned all gatherings of 10 or more statewide and ordered all elderly and vulnerable Oklahomans to stay home until April 30 except for essential travel like going to grocery store or pharmacy. He suspended for 14 days all elective surgeries and minor medical procedures and any non-emergency dental procedures in an effort to preserve medical supplies. To protect elderly, he’s forbidding visitation to nursing homes and long-term care facilities until further notice.
Stitt said he his 21-day business closure order impacts only the 19 counties with confirmed positive cases. Counties impacted include Canadian, Cleveland, Custer, Garvin, Grady, Jackson, Kay, Logan, Mayes, McClain, Muskogee, Noble, Oklahoma, Pawnee, Payne, Pontotoc, Tulsa, Wagoner and Washington.
But, he said said the closure order would expand to any additional counties with confirmed cases in the coming days.
Stitt said modeling and prediction of the virus indicates the state is poised to have a spike of COVID-19 cases that outstrips the capacity of the health care system. He said he believes there are at least 500 cases already in the state even though the confirmed case numbers are much lower. The number of cases will quickly reach the thousands, he said.
He said his efforts are aimed at minimizing the spread and maximizing prevention efforts.
“If we take no measures at all, the cases will outpace the capacity of our health care system,” Stitt said. “We needed time to get testing down throughout the state to make sure we can isolate and quarantine and know where the outbreaks are.”
Some businesses impacted by the closure order include gyms, theaters, massage parlors, dine-in portions of restaurants, barbers and tattoo shops.
He also said two hospitals in the state will be dedicated to treat Oklahomans hospitalized from the coronavirus. Details on those facilities would be released in the coming days, he said.
Stitt’s move came after 15 Oklahoma medical groups, who represent thousands of health care workers, sent a letter Monday to Stitt urging him to take “more aggressive, proactive efforts” to curb the spread of the disease.
The groups, which including the Oklahoma State Medical Association, the Oklahoma Hospital Association and the Oklahoma Nurses Association, urgently requested Stitt implement a shelter-in-place policy and close non-essential businesses until the pandemic is truly contained.
Dr. Kayse Shrum, who serves as the state secretary of science and innovation, said she believed the actions would be embraced by the health care groups because it will mitigate transmission, allow the state to ramp up testing capabilities, plus expand existing hospital infrastructure and preserve for hospital workers protective equipment, which is short supply.
Medical professionals, though, said Stitt’s actions weren’t enough.
“We have asked for shelter in place. And we feel like this isn’t quite far enough,” said Jennifer Dennis-Smith, a spokeswoman for the Oklahoma State Medical Association, of Stitt’s measures.
House Minority Emily Virgin, D-Norman, said she’s grateful that Stitt is recognizing that more serious steps need to be taken in order to prevent the spread. Her caucus sent Stitt a letter Monday demanding for statewide business closures.
“I will continue to push for a statewide order because I think that’s what we need to truly stop the spread,” she said. “It sounds like these actions he’s taken today are reactive in counties where we have had confirmed cases rather than proactive in counties where we haven’t had confirmed cases.”
With the ongoing severe testing shortages, Virgin said even if most counties haven’t officially had a confirmed case, there’s probably one that hasn’t been tested or others where results are still pending.
“I don’t’ think he went far enough today,” Virgin said. “Again, I really want to see some proactive steps taken.”
Stecklein covers the Oklahoma Statehouse for CNHI's newspapers and websites. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.