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COVID-19 response: Gov. Stitt implements 'safer-at-home' policy

Carmen Forman
Gannett Oklahoma

Gov. Kevin Stitt on Tuesday took greater steps to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

Saying Oklahoma could have 500 or more positive cases of coronavirus, Stitt announced he is enacting a "safer-at-home" policy to mandate the state's "vulnerable populations" remain at home until April 30.

Stitt also ordered all "nonessential" business in the 19 Oklahoma counties with confirmed cases of COVID-19 close for a 21-day period starting at midnight Wednesday.

The order will include additional counties if more confirmed cases are discovered outside the current 19 counties.

"We’re taking what we think is appropriate action at this time based on the facts that we have and the data in Oklahoma," Stitt said.

Elderly Oklahomans and those with an autoimmune disorder count as those the state considers most vulnerable, Stitt said. Those Oklahomans will still be allowed to partake in "essential travel" to the pharmacy or grocery store, he said.

The governor also announced a ban on all gatherings of more than 10 people across the state. He also is putting a 14-day moratorium on all elective surgeries, minor medical procedures, and non-emergency dental procedures.

Stitt said he hopes these actions will help keep the state's COVID-19 cases low so they don't overwhelm Oklahoma's hospitals and health care providers.

"By acting early, we’re going to flatten that curve to keep it underneath our health care system and also gives us time to ramp up and develop the protective equipment and also the additional ventilators, ICU beds, the additional hospital beds," he said.

The order on "nonessential" businesses in affected counties will be re-evaluated on April 14. Stitt said he is hopeful the state will have more testing and data at that point that will help him make an informed decision on next steps.

The "nonessential" businesses that will have to close in 19 counties include salons, gyms, tattoo parlors, spas and massage parlors. Restaurants will be limited to offering food to go. Pharmacies and grocery stores will remain open.

The governor's announcement comes as the Oklahoma State Department of Health reports 109 Oklahomans have tested positive and three have died from the virus. But Stitt said the number of confirmed cases is low due to the state's limited testing ability.

Oklahoma Secretary of Science and Innovation Kayse Shrum said Stitt's new policies will help the state slow transmission of the virus while ramping up testing and making sure hospitals are prepared for an influx of patients.

"I believe the governor’s initiatives address the heart of what the health care community is wanting," said Shrum, a doctor and president of the Oklahoma State University Center for Health Sciences.

More than a dozen Oklahoma medical organizations on Monday asked Stitt to implement a statewide shelter-in-place policy. Some legislative Democrats and Oklahoma mayors also called on Stitt to take more forceful measures to respond to the outbreak.