OKLAHOMA CITY — The House Democratic caucus Monday called on Gov. Kevin Stitt to enact statewide closures of bars, fitness centers, and indoor dining portions of restaurants in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19.
In a letter to the Republican governor, House Minority Leader Emily Virgin, D-Norman, also urged him to ban non-essential gatherings larger than 10 people as the number of confirmed coronavirus cases jumped to 81.
Virgin said many municipal leaders already have closed businesses, but that decision has been far from universal. Without statewide action, Virgin said COVID-19 will continue to spread.
“We have heard your comments that our state’s current situation does not justify these actions,” Virgin said. “We strongly disagree. Our state’s positive cases are likely much higher than our official numbers because of our extreme shortage of test kits.”
She said lawmakers have heard from many constituents — nurses, patients and doctors — who were unable to get tested.
“The time to act is now, not when our official numbers increase,” Virgin said. “We must be proactive in this situation instead of reactive.”
A Stitt spokesman didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment, but in a Monday morning interview with Oklahoma City television station KOCO, the governor said he’s recommending Oklahomans follow the federal health guidelines that urge people to avoid groups larger than 10.
He said he’d rely on state experts to decide if, or when, additional steps need to be taken. It could take months for coronavirus to run its course in Oklahoma, he said.
“My No.1 goal is to protect the lives of Oklahomans,” Stitt said. “You can’t close life down. You certainly shouldn’t do it too early if the spikes are going to be in August. I will let Oklahomans know when it’s time to take another step.”
Virgin said Democrats are aware that businesses will suffer under a statewide ban. Many already are strained under the patchwork network of closures.
“However, we have heard from many business owners who relay that the current patchwork of regulations is unfair and unworkable,” Virgin said.
Virgin said Stitt’s failure to take the necessary steps to ensure public safety only will increase cases and damage small businesses
Stitt must prioritize the lives and health of Oklahomans, she said.
“As state leaders we have a responsibility to protect the public health and safety of all Oklahomans, not just those whose municipal leaders have already taken action,” Virgin said. “The best way we can do this is to take statewide action.”
Stecklein covers the Oklahoma Statehouse for CNHI's newspapers and websites. Reach her at email@example.com.