For the second consecutive day, Governor Kevin Stitt urged any Oklahoman with symptoms of COVID-19 or anyone who has been in contact with someone who has symptoms to get tested for the virus. In his Thursday press conference, he also told public and private labs to loosen restrictions on testing.
Until Wednesday, the state had strict guidelines on who was eligible to be tested. Those restrictions included healthcare workers and seriously ill people who had already been hospitalized.
While Stitt did not address it directly, it sounded like there had been some confusion on the sudden loosening of testing guidelines.
In addition, he announced that he was declaring a health emergency for Oklahoma through the end of April. He said this will allow for a more unified response to the pandemic’s spread by allowing the governor to bypass some laws and regulations with executive orders. The emergency will need to be approved by the state legislature.
An announcement by Senate President Pro Tem Greg Treat indicates the legislature will convene in person at the state capitol on Monday. Treat announced that the time lawmakers spend on the floor of the Senate would be minimized.
This comes three weeks after a Senate staffer was diagnosed with the virus and Senators were placed on lockdown in their offices to be tested. The testing, though done by a private lab, drew public criticism because the wider public was unable to access tests at the time.
Since then, two lawmakers, State Senator Paul Rosino and State Representative Jason Lowe have both announced they tested positive for the disease.
In his Thursday press conference, Stitt also provided additional clues into the state’s preparation for the disease and promised increased transparency.
Gary Cox, Oklahoma's Commissioner of Health, joined Stitt for the media availability. Cox also said more transparency is forthcoming and more localized information from counties and the 68 local health departments would soon be available. No timeline was provided, but he said information provided on a local level would be more relevant and helpful in allowing people to make decisions.
In addition, Cox said the state was working to correct another area that has drawn public criticism by providing information on outbreaks in concentrated populations such as nursing homes. No timeline for that information was provided.
Earlier in the week, Stitt said information on the state’s surge hospital plan for COVID-19 patients would be available within 48 hours. On Thursday, he said that modeling information was still being developed and he had sent the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Oklahoma National Guard back to find more rural locations for the possible 10 field hospitals that could be deployed.