Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt stopped short once again of imposing a statewide mask mandate Monday, becoming the latest governor to put in place new restrictions-but not the one that experts say is crucial to slowing the spread of COVID-19.
The governors of Iowa, Nebraska, and Idaho also have held press conferences in recent weeks to announce new measures in response to ever-higher coronavirus cases, deaths, and hospitalizations. But they have all declined to implement a blanket statewide mask mandate-an issue that has become pointlessly politicized.
Stitt, a Republican, has resisted requiring masks statewide for months, even after the Trump White House's Coronavirus Task Force recommended the move earlier this year. With the state's coronavirus situation growing worse Monday, the governor made a small concession, ordering that all state employees, would need "to wear a mask in common areas or when they're around people at work."
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That decision would cover 33,000 employees throughout Oklahoma, while masks will also be mandated for people visiting state buildings. In other moves, Stitt also said the state would soon require restaurants and bars to close by 11 p.m and that tables at restaurants be 6 feet apart or have "sanitized dividers."
"We've been fully reopen for six months now," Stitt told reporters during Monday's press conference. "But recently we've seen our numbers starting to climb....based on the data in our state, specifically the rise in hospitalizations, now is the time to do more."
This weekend, the nation saw its 11th million COVID-19 case, with 1 million of those diagnoses coming in just six days. All but a handful of states have reported new records in coronavirus metrics in the past week-and the numbers are only expected to get worse as many Americans ignore pleas from public health officials and gather for the winter holidays.
The circumstances have gotten so dire that North Dakota's Doug Burgum threw in the towel last week and announced the statewide mask order that medical professionals in his state had been begging him to put in place. He followed Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, who days earlier had ordered residents to wear masks in public when near others.
"Masks do not negatively affect our economy, and wearing them is the easiest way to slow the spread of the virus. Experts tell us that masks do not cause a shortage of oxygen to your brain or cause disease," Herbert said at the time. "We cannot afford to debate this issue any longer. Individual freedom is certainly important and it is our rule of law that protects that freedom."
But others are maintaining their resistance to statewide mask orders-even as studies show that masks work. University of Kansas researchers said in a study released last month that in Kansas they "found a 50% reduction in the spread of COVID-19 in counties that had a mask mandate compared to those without."
While Stitt is declining to go that far, the White House Coronavirus Task Force issued a warning about the state's direction amid the recent surge. Federal officials warned in a Nov. 8 state report that "the unyielding COVID spread across Oklahoma continues with new hospital admissions, inpatients, and patients in the ICU at record levels, indicating deeper spread across the state."
"The most recent trends, showing steep inclines across all indicators, need immediate action including mask requirements to decrease severity in morbidity and mortality among Oklahomans," the task force said in the report.
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