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Stitt says he won't declare public health emergency as COVID cases, hospitalizations rise again in Oklahoma
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Stitt says he won't declare public health emergency as COVID cases, hospitalizations rise again in Oklahoma

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Gov. Kevin Stitt is trusting Oklahomans to make their own decisions as COVID-19 cases again rise sharply in the state, he said Friday.

“Not planning on declaring an emergency,” Stitt said during a press conference to announce the appointment of Tulsan John O’Connor as the state’s attorney general.

“This is about personal responsibility. It’s about freedoms,” Stitt said. “I believe that’s where Oklahomans line up on this. This is something you should make those decisions in consultation with your medical professionals.”

Stitt said he has been “leading by example” by getting vaccinated and encouraging others to do the same.

“We’ll continue to monitor (the situation) very closely and provide transparent data so Oklahomans can make the best decision for them and their families,” he said.

See all of the Tulsa World's coverage related to the coronavirus outbreak​ at tulsaworld.com

National statistics indicate that only about 40% of Oklahomans are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, which puts the state in the bottom tier of states. The other 60% are partially vaccinated or not vaccinated at all, with the latter group including children younger than 12, who are not approved for any of the available vaccines.

Stitt said he disagrees that Oklahoma lags in vaccinations, saying more than 60% of all adults and 85% of those older than 65 have received at least one dose.

He encountered stiff pushback from legislators after his emergency declaration last year sharply curtailed public activities. Local and school district mask ordinances also proved highly controversial and in some cases unpopular.

The result was legislation requiring an emergency declaration by Stitt in order for schools, as well as colleges and universities, to implement mask mandates.

Signed into law in late May by Stitt, Senate Bill 658 bars school districts, colleges and universities from requiring masks on campus unless a state of emergency declaration is in place.

Even if such a declaration is issued for the area, any mask mandate has to be made in consultation with the local health department and would have to be reconsidered at every regularly scheduled school board or higher education regents meeting.

Tulsa Public Schools had a universal mask requirement in place through June 7 for anyone in district-owned buildings or vehicles.

A spokeswoman said Friday afternoon that the district is still working with the Tulsa Health Department and the Oklahoma State Department of Education to determine its COVID-19 mitigation policy options for the 2021-22 school year that are compliant with the new restrictions. TPS classes start on Aug. 19.

“Throughout the pandemic, our district leaders have been consistent,” district spokeswoman Lauren Partain Barber said. “When making decisions, we have used science and data, and we followed the guidance of our public health professionals.

“We continue to collaborate with public health and medical professionals to ensure that our safety guidance reflects the most current science, data, and best practices.”

Lenzy Krehbiel-Burton contributed to this story.

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