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Oklahoma Public Health Officials Continue Opposition To Statewide Mask Mandates

With his face mask down around his neck, Stitt encouraged Oklahomans to wear a face mask, but said that he will not consider placing a face mask mandate on Oklahoma.
Sue Ogrocki
Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt gestures as he speaks during a news conference, Tuesday, June 30, 2020, in Oklahoma City.

Continued growth in Oklahoma’s coronavirus cases have led to a heightened push for statewide mask mandates, but public health officials say that’s not likely.

As 7-day averages for daily case counts surpass 2,000 and hospitalizations hover near 1,000 a day, Gov. Kevin Stitt has maintained the position that Oklahoma views containing the virus as a personal responsibility issue. During a media availability on Monday, two of the state’s top health officials discussed their own positions on mask mandates.

Typically, agency officials such as the commissioner of health stay away from polarizing political questions. That is exactly what the question over mandates has become. And Commissioner of Health Lancy Frye said that is part of the reason Oklahoma is staying away from them.

“I’ve had multiple people come up to me and tell me, ‘Hey, I’ll wear a mask, but don’t don’t tell me I have to wear a mask, then I’m not going to do it.’ I mean, if you’re asking, do we have independent people in the state of Oklahoma that believe in their freedom so much that they will do something, the opposite of what you tell them to do? My answer is, ‘Absolutely, we do have those people in Oklahoma.’”

He said that mask compliance reduces spread, but it is hard to extricate mask compliance from mask mandate effects in the data. He also raised concerns about their enforceability.

Thirty-three states and the District of Columbia have statewide mandates, according to the AARP’s tally, which was updated on Nov. 6.

State Epidemiologist Jared Taylor revealed his line of thinking in the same availability Monday. He doesn’t endorse any specific policies, he said. That’s up to the governor. His job is to help the administration vet each potential decision and analyze outcomes.

“I’m here to provide data,” he said. “… Opening schools or doing distance education, whether that’s talking about closing down bars or disrupting houses of worship — that’s not science. That’s not a science question. That’s a political question. And if I ever run for office, then I’ll need to answer that.”

Frye and Taylor said the Stitt Administration still has several options on the table as far as mitigation measures go. Frye said that limiting bar and restaurant capacity or hours have been considered, as well as a few other options, but he didn’t indicate which were seeing the most support.

Stitt and Frye will join hospital administrators and other health officials for a COVID-19 update Tuesday at 2 p.m. House Minority Leader Emily Virgin also announced a press conference for Tuesday, where she and her caucus will call for a statewide mask mandate and a special session.

StateImpact Oklahoma is a partnership of Oklahoma’s public radio stations which relies on contributions from readers and listeners to fulfill its mission of public service to Oklahoma and beyond. Donate online.

Catherine Sweeney grew up in Muskogee, Oklahoma, and attended Oklahoma State University. She has covered local, state and federal government for outlets in Oklahoma, Colorado and Washington, D.C.
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