As Oklahoma City Extends Mask Ordinance, State Leaders Continue To Rebuff Statewide Mandate

Mask mandates continue to be top of mind for Oklahoma officials. As one city council voted to extend theirs, state officials maintained that containing the spread should rest on personal responsibility.

On Tuesday morning, the Oklahoma City Council voted 6-3 to extend its mask mandate until at least October 20th.

Meanwhile, about 60 miles away, top Oklahoma officials gathered in Stillwater to provide a COVID-19 update and urge residents to play their part in mitigating the spread of the virus.

"The best way to fight this virus is for every Oklahoman to do their part," Governor Kevin Stitt said. "Wash your hands, watch your distance and wear a mask."

Stitt said health officials issued mask recommendations to communities with high spread, such as Oklahoma City and Tulsa. And as people started wearing masks, case counts went down.

The Oklahoma City-County Health Department’s latest epidemiologist’s report found there has been a decline in COVID-19-related emergency room visits. Oklahoma County also saw daily new case counts drop by 57 percent between July 20th and August 20th.

However, Stitt and Interim Commissioner of Health Lance Frye warned against statewide mandates, saying that requiring them in areas with low incidence of the virus would be unreasonable.

"If there was anything somebody could do to snap their fingers to make the cases go down to zero, we would do that all across the United States," Stitt said. "But it comes down to personal responsibility."

The White House Coronavirus Task Force has repeatedly recommended Oklahoma implement a statewide mask mandate.

Officials also addressed the level of safety at in-school learning in Oklahoma.

State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister lamented that many districts aren’t requiring masks in schools, noting that the density within those buildings can accelerate spread.

In just a few weeks of in-person instruction, one-fourth of Oklahoma school districts have publicly reported positive coronavirus cases. But, Stitt stressed the importance of in-person instruction.

"We know that kids learn better when they're in the classroom with their teachers," Stitt said.

With about 75% of Oklahoma schools still teaching in-person, he said he is more comfortable letting families make the decision to move children to online learning if need be.

The press conference took place in The McKnight Center for Performing Arts at Oklahoma State University and comes amid a spike in COVID-19 cases in Payne County. In its latest update on Tuesday, OSU's COVID-19 testing dashboard shows a 469% increase in positive cases in the past week.

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