Governor, State School Superintendent Urges Schools To Remain Open Amid Coronavirus Scare

by Scott Carter

OKLAHOMA CITY – Oklahoma governor Kevin Stitt urged schools to remain open, adding that the state is prepared to respond to any confirmed cases of the Covid-19 virus.

Stitt made the announcement a press conference Thursday afternoon at the state Capitol. The governor said officials were working with their federal and local partners to address problems associated with the spread of the virus.

Still also announced he had issued an executive order to protect the elderly and residents who were at a higher risk of infection. Stitt’s order said all state agencies “shall take steps necessary to protect vulnerable populations, including but not limited to, restricting access to certain locations and facilities. These locations and facilities may include veterans centers, long-term care facilities, adult day care centers and correctional facilities.”

The order also said state agencies “may make necessary purchases to fully prepare for a potential outbreak within the state.” Those purchases, the governor said, must be readily identifiable and, following the conclusion of this threat, would be audited. Stitt’s order directed state agencies to follow guidance from the state health department for interaction with the public.

“We are prepared and praying and hoping for the best,” the governor said. “At the same time we are making sure that state agencies are ready to serve all four million Oklahomans.”

Thursday afternoon, state epidemiologist Laurence Burnsed said officials confirmed a total of five cases of the Covid-19 virus in Oklahoma. Three of those cases were state residents while the other two were members of the Utah Jazz basketball team, he said.

Burnsed said four other residents were under investigation for the virus and another 36 had been tested. Those 36 tests were negative.

Still, while many schools, colleges and athletic events have been cancelled in light of the virus’ spread, state officials said the Capitol would remain open and the legislature would remain in session.

House Speaker Charles McCall, R-Atoka, told media representatives that legislative officials had no plans to close the state Capitol at present. He said legislative leaders would develop contingencies to respond to “any situation that would occur.”

Burnsed, the epidemiologist, said the state had tested 58 individuals for the virus. He said health officials have the ability to run about 100 tests per day for the virus. He said private labs could perform additional tests if needed.

“The current capacity is for about 300 tests. Two private labs are either or will be up and running very soon,” he said.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmesiter said school officials were working with the health department to ensure the state does the right thing. “Nothing is more important than the safety and well-being of our students and families and those who serve them,” she said.

She said school districts should use their spring break “as a time for common sense and practical steps.” Hofmeister urged school boards to review their plans and policies and make the best decision for the student.

Stitt said officials didn’t want to jump too soon to close schools. “The recommendation has been you don’t want to close them down too early or two late,” he said. “You wan to try to prevent the spread. So the thought process is if you close them down now, when do they reopen? We’re monitoring that very closely. As we have community spread, that’s when we’re going to recommend that we close down the schools.”

The governor said Oklahomans should remain calm in light of the virus. “We want people to take a deep breath. We are prepared. We don’t want to create a panic or over react,” he said.

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