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Contact Tracing Underway As 2 State Reps Test Positive For COVID Following Capitol Swearing-In

Oklahoma House of Representatives
Members of the Oklahoma House of Representatives at a ceremonial swearing-in at the state capitol on Wednesdsay, Nov. 11.

Contact tracing efforts are underway following news that two Oklahoma state representatives tested positive for COVID-19 shortly after lawmakers convened at the state capitol Wednesday for a swearing-in ceremony.

Representatives Tammy Townley (R-Ardmore) and Kevin Wallace (R-Wellston) confirmed in statements they have been infected with the novel coronavirus.

“I tested positive for Covid-19 antibodies this summer and for that reason had zero reason to believe I was a transmission risk this week," Townley said in a statement. This is why it is so surprising I tested positive again after the oath ceremony. I am asymptomatic, feel fine and only took a test because it was required for an event I planned to attend Thursday. I was very surprised to have a positive result, given my prior positive test for antibodies. I immediately notified House leadership and am participating in contact tracing efforts.”


“As a requirement for a trip scheduled this weekend, I took a COVID-19 test," said Wallace in a statement. "Immediately upon learning of testing positive, I contacted the Speaker’s Office. I did not participate in the Oath of Office ceremonies or take my oath with any other members. The Oath of Office was administered to me individually under CDC guidelines. The Oklahoma State Department of Health has been working on trace back. I am still asymptomatic and quarantining.”


Several House members expressed frustration on Twitter that they learned of their potential exposure to the disease on social media rather than being notified by Republican House leadership.


"Not shocked. Also, great learning about this on Twitter," wrote Rep. Monroe Nichols (D-Tulsa) in response to a tweet from the Tulsa World's Barbara Hoberock, who first reported the lawmakers' positive tests.


"Seems like we should have received some sort of phone call. You know, before reading it on Twitter," tweeted. Rep. Melissa Provenzano (D-Tulsa).


"I really don't know what to say about this. I'm highly appalled and feel deeply disrespected. On behalf of my district, my family, and myself," wrote newly-elected Rep. Mauree Turner (D-Oklahoma City).


"Disappointing and concerning that I’m just now learning about this on Twitter," tweeted Rep. Mickey Dollens (D-Oklahoma City). "My toddlers’ ‘Mother’s Day Out’ child care has more health safety protocols than what was at the Capitol yesterday - which was none. No temp checks, no hand sanitizer, no mask mandate. Thinking of the Sergeant of Arms, many of whom are veterans & in their later years, who are being asked to risk their lives to serve us. Meanwhile, most R’s didn’t have the decency to wear a mask in their presence yesterday."


"How the hell do I find out about this on Twitter and not from the House leadership? This is ridiculous. This is the same BS happening across the state. WE CAN’T IGNORE OUR WAY OUT OF THIS," wrote Rep. Forrest Bennett (D-Oklahoma City).


John Estus, a spokesperson for Republican Speaker of the House Charles McCall, said leadership had no comment at this time when reached late Thursday.


Townley, the lawmaker who said she didn't believe she could transmit the disease since she believed she already had it, posted photos to social media on Tuesday of herself with several elderly veterans. Neither she nor the men wore masks.




The office of Gov. Kevin Stitt, a Republican, did not respond to a request for comment. Stitt tweeted earlier Thursday about the Sunday expiration of emergency rules allowing public bodies to meet fully virtually. The governor wrote that "Oklahomans have done a great job implementing safety precautions and responsibly conducting business in-person."



Chris joined Public Radio Tulsa as a news anchor and reporter in April 2020. He’s a graduate of Hunter College and the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism, both at the City University of New York.
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