Gov. Stitt on Wednesday extended his executive order to close non-essential businesses to all 77 counties through April 30. However, that’s not enough. To slow the virus’s spread and give our health systems the resources to respond, Gov. Stitt should issue a statewide stay-at-home order.
Oklahoma, along with Michigan and Georgia, have been identified as emerging hotspots where outbreaks are intensifying and per capita testing rates are some of the lowest in the nation. There are already signals of rapidly expanding outbreaks in some parts of the state, as the number of confirmed infections has more than doubled during the past five days.
This weekend, Tulsa and Oklahoma City joined 43 of the nation’s largest cities in issuing “stay-at-home” orders, restricting residents’ movement to essential errands and occupations. Following Norman’s stay-at-home order earlier last week, more than 1 in 4 Oklahomans are now staying home except when absolutely necessary.
At present, Gov. Stitt’s executive order closes non-essential businesses in all 77 counties, and only “high-risk” persons are asked to stay at home. Gov. Stitt has acknowledged that Oklahoma’s number of COVID — and by extension, their locations — are almost certainly underreported because there aren’t enough tests available. Without adequate testing, many medical officials are concerned the virus will spread. This can be especially troubling to our rural areas, which are already underserved by doctors and hospitals. Without a statewide stay-at-home order, the virus will continue to spread, putting more people at risk.
The previous patchwork approach and its apparently narrow application created widespread confusion, something the mayors of Tulsa and Oklahoma City both cited when they issued stay-at-home orders this weekend. With the Governor currently asking only elderly and other high-risk Oklahomans to stay at home, it’s not clear to whom the order applies. This leaves it up to the individual to decide for themselves. Among other issues, this might force workers to disclose a medical condition to explain to their boss why they can’t come into work. In addition, given Oklahoma’s sky-high uninsured rate, Oklahomans themselves may be understandably unsure if they have health conditions that could make them high-risk, such as asthma or diabetes.
As of Wednesday afternoon, 34 states have issued statewide stay-at-home or nearly identical shelter-in-place orders. Oklahoma should join them, as the state’s health care providers have urged. As many epidemiologists have noted over the last few weeks, “flattening the curve” assumes that a substantial number of people will contract COVID-19. These medical experts say the best chance at keeping our health system from being overwhelmed is for us to avoid getting sick all at once. This also maximizes access to health care for sick Oklahomans. A statewide stay-at-home order recognizes the gravity of the situation, and it gives Oklahomans and local businesses the power to limit their exposure, keeping all of us safer.